Monday, June 11, 2018

Seven Day Break From Fake

Last Sunday, President Russell M. Nelson challenged youth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to (among several other things) do a week-long "fast" from social media. The devotional where that challenge was issued is summarized in this video -

Here's President Nelson's full quote from his talk (the entire text of which can be read here) -
So, my first invitation to you today is to disengage from a constant reliance on social media by holding a seven-day fast from social media. I acknowledge that there are positives about social media. But if you are paying more attention to feeds from social media than you are to the whisperings of the Spirit, then you are putting yourself at spiritual risk—as well as the risk of experiencing intense loneliness and depression. You and I both know youth who have been influenced through social media to do and say things that they never would do or say in person. Bullying is one example.
Another downside of social media is that it creates a false reality. Everyone posts their most fun, adventurous, and exciting pictures, which create the erroneous impression that everyone except you is leading a fun, adventurous, and exciting life. Much of what appears in your various social media feeds is distorted, if not fake. So give yourself a seven-day break from fake!
Choose seven consecutive days and go for it! See if you notice any difference in how you feel and what you think, and even how you think, during those seven days. After seven days, notice if there are some things you want to stop doing and some things you now want to start doing.
This social media fast can be just between you and the Lord. It will be your sign to Him that you are willing to step away from the world[...] 
Now, if hundreds of thousands of 12-18 year olds can be challenged to give up Facebook and Twitter, there's no reason that I - a 30+ adult who did not grow up on the internet - couldn't do it too. When I heard of this challenge from President Nelson, I'd already been thinking of trying to find a way to scale back my social media usage.

Since Tiny was born 10 months ago (and since I was fired from COTR), I have taken the internet equivalent of a machete to my social media feeds - particularly Facebook and Twitter. But even with the mass unfollowing/unfriending of pages and people that just flat-out pissed me off, irritating crap still managed to get put up on my feeds. Even from people who are usually quite positive. Political talk is the worst offender, but it's also the idiotic click-bait stuff is a huge problem.

So, seven days. Could I do it?

One of my techniques was to move my Facebook and Twitter apps on my phone. I didn't delete them, but I just put them somewhere else. Not seeing them in their usual spot reminded me that I was working toward a goal. It was actually quite easy to remember to stay off Facebook and Twitter. Even when I was wondered what someone in my family was doing, I would just call or text them.

And I read a lot more, too. I'd use Kindle or Libby or Audible to read (or listen to) a book instead of finding the latest outrage hit being pushed by my Facebook feed. It was so much more calming.

The one night I had a hard time with it was Thursday night. I've also been fighting off a cold this past week and Thursday night is when it hit me the worst. I just wanted something mindless to distract me from being sick. Instead, I turned on Perfect Strangers reruns on Hulu (Tiny likes watching that show. Trust me - I tried to get him interested in a kids' show that night and he was not having it. But watching Larry and Balki's antics? Yep. That did the trick. Sometimes, I can't explain my child at all).

The best reflection I could come up with happened when I was checking Facebook and Twitter in the wee hours of the morning when I was up with Tiny (around 4:30, I think). I hadn’t been back on five minutes when I saw something that made me want to throttle somebody. That contrast, more than anything else, told me everything I needed to know about my relationship with social media.

All week, I didn't get mad about anything I couldn't control. I don't have regular TV, so I didn't watch the news. No headlines crafted to incite the anger junkies and keep them addicted to the click-bait sites and their insane pop-up ads. I was more present in my own life. I spent more time focused on my family and their needs. My mental health was so much better. More than anything, that was worth the effort.

Also - and this may lose me some librarian cred, but I don't care - being informed is hardly the virtue that it's made out to be anymore. Even if I kept up with all the current events in the world - what am I going to be able to do about it? All I'm going to do is sit and stew about it and lose sleep over it. And here's a dirty little secret I've gleaned from working in news (both recently and years ago) - but the news isn't about telling people what's going on. Even professional news outlets try to find the most outrageous and sensational gossip and maddening things they can report on. It gets hits and clicks and eyeballs and makes tons of money. There could be something worthwhile in that pile of garbage, but my motivation to find it has been completely shattered.

Sturgeon's Law is a thing for a reason, peeps.

Anyway, life without social media is lovely. I’m not beholden to some dopey curly-headed robot parading around as a college kid who thinks all his money entitles him to dictate the things I read and see in my feeds. My time is my own again. I’m more present for others. I’m not bound by the shallow scaremonger headlines and clickbait quizzes and inane crap that people think is a matter of Life and Death.

If I want to know something, I look it up specifically and get what I need. Pinterest - for all it’s froofy weirdness - is actually a handy organizational tool. Saving things on Facebook doesn’t work. But if I find a recipe (for example) that I want to try, I save it to my Pinterest board and I’ve actually tried a bunch of things there. I actually feel more personally enriched when I specifically look for a piece of information, than if I just sit back and let an arbitrary feed dump it into my brain.

I don't really care what other people decide to do with their social media presence. And I don't intend to completely get off social media - it does serve some positive purpose for me. I keep in touch with my family and friends, I do things for the podcast on social media, I keep track of events and things like that. But I can do without getting sucked into the pointless drama.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' and the Politics of the Perpetually Aggrieved

I have not yet seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I have no opinion about it yet. There are people who I respect who love the movie, and there are people who I respect who hate the movie. So far, I've managed to keep my backside firmly planted on that fence in the middle - purely because I haven't seen the film yet. Though I will say that I haven't been quite so religious in avoiding spoilers. Still, without context or seeing it on the big screen, it doesn't really matter that I kinda, sorta know what happens.

But this post isn't entirely about Star Wars or any fandom in particular. This post is an observation about society in general and how it seems like everybody - and I do mean everybody - is always spoiling for a fight over the most idiotic stuff. Not only looking to fight, but to make these fights personal. Like, if you don't agree with someone on a particular topic, you are somehow morally obligated to insult them, their mother, their dog, their car, their ancestors all the way back to Adam, and the single-celled organisms from which their lineage spawned.

Really, people? Really?

I'm sure you've seen the posts about "How to Handle Your Crazy Uncle Who Voted For [Insert Political Candidate Here] At Thanksgiving." I mean, we're letting politics dictate how we associate with family members. Politics. Something run by people that are complete strangers, but for their presence in the daily news, and that demand our unswerving loyalty because... voting or something. Hell, I don't know. But politics makes people lose their freaking minds and I'm sick of it (I include myself in that assessment. I'm really trying my best to stay out of it these days).

Here's a newsflash - whether you love the person in charge or hate his stinking guts (and it doesn't matter which "he" I'm referring to - there have been 45 of them. Pick one. The ones from my lifetime have been kind of crappy, truth be told), the president is not God. No politician is. No politician has  have the power to completely ruin your life or give you the most perfect existence in this mortal coil. I would appreciate it if people on both sides would stop acting like it.

I know, I know. I'm asking for waaaaaaay too much. I'd have a better chance of Santa Claus bringing me a sparkly purple unicorn that farts $20 bills and vomits ice cream.

Somehow, all of these online political fistfights have taken over pop culture as well. Somewhere along the line, it became virtuous for celebrities to voice their political opinions and make their fans feel like crap if they disagreed. Same with directors, writers, etc. Then there were the big-name fans who like to rub it in because it inflates their egos and they're getting paid to props these other egos up as well. And some fans took it to heart. Maybe they boycotted the movies. Maybe they went into the movie expecting it to be horrible and then they'd be justified in their hatred of it. Maybe they went on to create stories that similarly shoved overly-preachy message fic in our faces, just in the other direction.

Personally, I hate that pop culture has to be saturated with politics. I go to movies and read books to get away from that insanity. Call me a wimp - but maybe I just don't have the mental fortitude for 24/7 outrage (probably why I lost my COTR job - I just couldn't fake being angry at everything in the whole freaking world like my co-workers always seemed to be). I do like to take a break once in a while (or permanently). Turning my brain off to watch two-and-a-half hours of space battles and lightsaber fights is infinitely more preferable to watch two pompous blowhards yell at each other on TV and pretend they're debating anything of value.

This is what I say to that (and anyone else telling me to pick one side or the other) -

I have come to hate the phrase "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." Like paying attention to every little stupid thing that happens is what I should aspire to. Guess what? I don't want to pay attention. I want to ignore the news. Being "informed" has become a hindrance, rather than something useful. For all of Facebook's insistence on constantly changing their interface because they have nothing better to do, I wish they'd give us the option to turn off that idiotic "Trending News" box. I don't give a crap what news is "trendy." I never cared about trendy stuff when I was a kid, what makes you think I want to know about the trendy news now that I'm an adult?

Sigh... anyway... where was I with this? Oh yes - Star Wars.

Look, I know it's become cool to pick apart things that people like. Even "fans" of Star Wars pick it apart. First, it was that the prequel were bad - the original trilogy was the only thing worth watching. Well... except Return of the Jedi had those goofy Ewoks. And in A New Hope, Luke's super-whiny. But Empire - now THAT is Star Wars. That movie is PERFECT.

Wait... doesn't Leia kiss Luke in that one? They're siblings! HOW COULD THAT BE???

See? Picky, picky, picky. "Fans" seem to be more about picking things apart and hating on everything, rather than enjoying what you love.

It's fine to acknowledge flaws and missteps. It's even good to recognize that there's room to improve. But when you do that at that expense of also recognizing the good things they did, then you're just beating the dead horse alive (yes, that's what I meant). It's why I like this Nostalgia Critic video -

And the YouTube channel CinemaWins is a great one for this as well. Finding the mistakes in anything is easy. Finding things to praise and be complimentary about has become a lost art.

Which brings me around to that pesky political topic. Leave aside any political parties or even politicians (they're all scum anyway) - think about your friends and family. Are you going to throw away valuable relationships over a political disagreement? Unless your relationship is purely based on political views (and that is a pathetic thing to base any sort of personal relationship on at all), it's not worth alienating people you care about just because they voted for X and you voted for Y and someone else voted for Z.

For the record - I don't consider that I won or lost in the last election. I knew it was a losing prospect for me to try either way, so I took a third option. Both the main choices sucked and I was doing the best I could with what I was given. In my former day job, I wrote to represent my employers, since speaking my honest opinion wasn't something they seemed to be interested in (to put it mildly). Dishonest? Probably. I didn't enjoy it. The pay was good. There is good money to be made in feeding people's outrage. But clearly, my tactics didn't work. Judge me as you will - everyone else already has. I learned my lesson. I'm staying out of it. I'm just praying it sticks.

I'm not saying you have to give up your viewpoints if you don't want to. Just because I'm washing my hands of the whole mess doesn't mean you have to. But realize there are other things in life than politics. Same goes for pop culture. Not everything has to be dripping with political campaign messages. Luke Skywalker is not a stand-in for [Insert Favored Politician Here]. He wouldn't even know what Earth politics are like - he's never been to Earth! He's got bigger problems to worry about than who is running Washington DC, anyway (it's rough being the last Jedi in existence, I'm sure).

This plea is probably falling on deaf ears. Being angry and yelling on Twitter at people that you don't even know can be a lot of fun in the moment. It's even cathartic to vent on social media. You've probably heard some variation of the phrase "Anger is the devil's cocaine." It's addictive and it's easy to be mad all the time, even though it doesn't feel all that great. Being happy and positive feels better, but it's more work. A prominent leader in my church once gave a talk called "The Canker of Contention." I would highly recommend reading his talk, whether you're religious or not.

What I'm getting at is that I'm sick of all the fighting. Whether it's over politics or Star Wars or anything else. There's enough trouble in the world without going to look for it where there is functionally none. And honestly, whoever you're mad at probably didn't even mean to be insulting. What happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt? I worry that I give that benefit out too much, and when it comes time for me to be granted the same, I'll have to deal with somebody who refuses to cut me any sort of slack. Doesn't mean I won't stop.

There is contention in this world, true. But we don't have to participate in it. Instead of looking to famous people to be our role models, why not be the role model you'd want to see? That's so much easier to control.

And now it's late and I have things to do in the morning (and a baby that will probably be awake in a few hours). Sure wish my brain would stop having ideas so late at night...

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Great Review Roundup

As is probably very apparent, my blogging time has been next-to-nonexistent lately. Taking care of a new baby, going back to work, and having my husband finishing up his second-to-last semester of grad school has taken up most of my time, energy, and attention. All good things, of course. But I do miss writing (and this time, it's purely for myself. I don't have to pretend what my opinion is in order to make someone else look good. I can be completely honest in my thoughts again. I'd almost forgotten what that felt like).

What follows is a list of fandom-related things that I've read/seen/listened to/watched and want to comment on. They are in no particular order, just whatever order I remember them.

Once Upon a Time - Remember how I used to faithfully review each episode every week? Yeah... I've certainly fallen off the wagon there. And I can't fully blame my time constraints for this. There's just nothing about the show lately that makes me want to write about it. It's not fantastic, it's not a trainwreck. It's just kind of... meh. It's a retread of everything they did before - and better. This season has been one giant "We've gotta pull something together because, the network." There are some entertaining moments, but on the whole, it's nothing to write home about.

Sigh... so much potential wasted.
Honestly, this season has been an extended cut of Mean Girls with magic. Victoria Belfrey, Ivy, Mother Gothel - even Tiana and Jacinda to an extent. None of these characters resonate with me. Very few of them are even likable. Lucy's storyline was great, but they keep forgetting that she's around. Now they've knocked her out, as well as destroyed her belief in fairy tales and happy endings.

What the actual hell??

Oh, and Cinderella's evil stepmother is actually Rapunzel. Sigh... remember how I was pissed to the nth degree over "Peter Pan is Rumplestiltskin's father"? With this, I can barely muster up enough emotion to raise an eyebrow. I blame ABC for keeping this show running when the creators were happy to bow out gracefully last year.

Dune (1984) - Jared and I watched this last night. I've read the book, but not recently. And I must have seen the miniseries many years ago, because I did not remember anything from this movie. The movie looks beautiful. The sets, the costuming, the design, the art - even some of the effects look good. The first half of the movie is even plotted pretty well. But then the House of Scabby Gingers attacks and the storytelling kind of falls apart. I can't fault them too much for it, though. Adapting any book for a two-hour movie is a chore, and Dune is a complicated story even in book form. It strikes me as one that would be better served as a TV series. Watching this movie is like watching Harry Potter - you aren't there for the faithful adaptation or even the coherent storytelling. You're there for the pretty sets and costumes - the things you imagined when you were reading the book.

Still - there are worse ways to spend an evening.

Doctor Who - I have the most unpopularest opinions of unpopular opinions about the upcoming season: I'm not that excited for it. And it has nothing to do with the gender of the lead character (before any obnoxiously "woke" blowhard dipshit decides that's what my opinion is and rushes to close the clubhouse door on me. Like I need the internet to approve my fandom before I can watch this show. What are you going to do? Sneak into my house and steal my DVDs? Delete my Big Finish collection? Please).

The Christmas special? I'm here for it!
Chris Chibnall has not engendered much confidence as far as his Doctor Who writing has gone. The only episode of his that I really liked was "The Power of Three." The rest were forgettable. Not bad, necessarily. Just... forgettable. Yes, I liked the first season of Broadchurch, but I'm probably never going to rewatch it. And I couldn't get into the second season, or even Gracepoint, so that was a bust for me.

Now, that's not to say I'm not going to give him and Jodie Whittaker a chance. I wasn't all that impressed with Moffat's final season - though he did have a strong finish. Peter Capaldi has been a fantastic Doctor, but much of the writing in his era has not served him well. A change-up is what Doctor Who needs right now. I just hope that the changes that Chibnall brings are what's needed to keep the show fresh.

And I'll explain what I mean by "keeping the show fresh." Just last week, I had occasion to pick up DWM 518 (the December 2017 issue, if I'm remembering correctly) from the library. I kind of just skipped around the magazine, looking for interesting things to read (or passing on the things that didn't hold my attention). I wasn't going to read the comic, having been unimpressed with previous DWM comics. But this time, I read through it. The comic, titled "Matildus," was absolutely brilliant. And I am going to thoroughly spoil it for you, so deal with it -

The Twelfth Doctor and Bill land on a planet with a giant and ancient library (not that Library, completely different one). The library is kept by an old alien woman named Matildus. She's stern and kind of prickly, but she helps the Doctor with some questions he has. Though her prickly nature does cause Bill to leave the library and go out into the city. Bill is subsequently caught by a gang of street kids who tell her that Matildus used to be a kind (still stern) woman who let them hang out in the library (as long as they read the books she recommended - that made me laugh). But now she's chased them off and become a totally different person. The kids think there's something nefarious going on because nobody's gone in or out of the library in months - Bill's the first person they've seen come or go.

Meanwhile, Matildus's "granddaughter" who's been helping her maintain the library isn't her granddaughter at all. It's an evil alien entity that's trying to take control of the library with all its information and knowledge. The entity has been trying to convince Matildus that she's too old and senile to be the head librarian, so she should sign control of the library to her granddaughter - except she doesn't have a granddaughter. The Doctor and Bill reveal the entity's evil plan and the entity flees. But Matildus realizes that she's been too absorbed by her work that she doesn't have anyone close to her. No family, friends, or even colleagues. She's pushed everyone away (even before the alien entity was messing with her mind). But then the kids come rushing in and insist that she has them. It's happy endings all around - these street kids have someone who cares about them, and Matildus has an adopted family to share her life with.

I loved this story - not just because it takes place in a library and that hits all my warm-fuzzies in the right places, but that it's something that everyone can relate to. Wanting a family, wanting to share your life with somebody, not wanting to be alone forever. And it's the Scrooge trope - a mean-spirited and closed-off person learns to love and let people into their life. Maybe it's the Christmas season (though this wasn't a Christmas-themed story), but that made me feel good.

That's what I've been missing from Doctor Who - stories that make me feel good. I don't need overly-sweet and soppy storytelling, but something wholesome and heartwarming would be nice for once. Lately, Who has felt entirely too preachy and heavy-handed and I'm sick of that. Whatever you may think of the world at large (and there are a lot of crappy things going on in the world, I will not dispute that) - I think we need something positive and uplifting. Besides, if you really believe that world events are too much to overcome and nothing good is ever going to happen (I wouldn't go that far, but some people would), wouldn't you want to try to bring something good to people? Something that we can all agree with? I'm tired of all this divisiveness and arguing. I want something that most of us can agree on. Doctor Who is capable of such storytelling - it's why I fell in love with the show in the first place. More "Vincent and the Doctor" and "Closing Time", less "Oxygen" and... whatever the hell that monk three-parter was. Please and thank you.

I'll give the show a chance - I hope I will be proven wrong and that my concerns are unfounded. I would love to come out of Series 11 and say that it was the greatest thing since two-slotted toasters. But I'm not terribly confident right now.

Oh, and the 13th Doctor's costume looks like she's a five-year-old doesn't know how to dress herself. Speaking of unpopular opinions... (good grief, people - you made this big stink about casting a woman to play the Doctor and the first thing you do is dress her so she doesn't even look like a woman?? WTH is wrong with you???)

The coat is neat, though.
Okay, that's enough of that. On with my list!

Gate - Jared and I found this anime on Hulu and we enjoyed it immensely (seriously - if you want to find new anime to watch, Hulu is a good place to find it. And, yes, I know about Crunchyroll. They have great stuff too).

The premise goes thusly: A medieval fantasy empire tries to invade modern-day Japan during a comic convention. Horses, swords, magic, the whole shebang. A guy named Itami on his way to the convention, but he also happens to be a reservist in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. He helps get people out of harm's way and helps stop the invasion before it starts. It turns out there's a magical gate that's opened between these worlds and both the fantasy empire and modern governments want to establish diplomatic relations. The JSDF does send a team through the gate to establish an outpost in the "Special Region" - and because Itami was there during the initial attack, he get promoted to officer and he's one of the guys in charge (poor guy just wants to stay home and read comics). In the Special Region, Itami meets elves, wizards, princesses, even a demigoddess. Both cultures learn about each other and try to get along - though there are good guys and bad guys in both worlds.

The first half of this show was hilarious and charming. The second half is where most of the gritty conflict takes place, and it is no less entertaining. Definitely worth checking out.

The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter - This is the fourth book in the Riyria Chronicles by Michael J. Sullivan (I reviewed/gushed about his first series, the Riyria Revelations, here. The Riyria Chronicles is a prequel series dealing with Royce and Hadrian's earlier exploits). I'm currently listening to the audiobook and it is a treat - though I would expect no less from this series. There was a Kickstarter for it that just ended and I have to give the whole team big-time props for the way it was run. I haven't backed a whole lot of Kickstarters, so I don't know how this one compares with others. But every time there was a behind-the-scenes update, they made sure the backers knew what was going on. Even to the point of sending us relevant pieces of correspondence from Audible when it looked like the redeem codes for the audiobooks weren't going to work quite right (though I was able to get my audiobook from Audible without any problems, so I appreciate that even more).

I haven't gotten my limited edition hardcover copy of the book, but I don't think they've shipped yet. I'm sure once they do ship, I'll get it the way I expect to. This is a quality operation and, when you're running a business like this, a little praise is appreciated greatly. And they deserve it.

Oh, and the book is fantastic! Don't worry if you haven't read the first three yet, or even the first series - all of these are standalone enough that you can jump in wherever you like. But once you read one, you'll want to read them all. If you don't have time to read, the audiobooks are great too. The narrator does a lovely job.

Cozy Mysteries - Now that I'm back working at the library, I've been trying to expand my horizons (as it were) with different genres. Trying out things that I wouldn't normally read. And I think I've found something new that I love - cozy mysteries. I didn't think I would enjoy these, but here we are.

Cozy mysteries are light-hearted mysteries that usually deal with solving a murder, but I've run into a few that deal with theft and fraud. That juxtaposition shouldn't work, but it does. The stories usually revolve around a regular person - usually a woman - who gets thrust into an impossible situation and has to find out what's going on with her neighbor or co-worker or family member. A lot of cozies revolved around things like quilt shops, libraries, food, small boutiques. To start off with, I read Lemon Tart by Josi S. Kilpack - the first of the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mysteries (all of the books in this series have desserts in the titles, plus there are a bunch of recipes in the story). That one was a lot of fun, though her neighborhood is beyond dysfunctional. I also read And Only to Deceive, the first in the Lady Emily Mysteries series by Tasha Alexander. This one's a historical mystery where Lady Emily suspects her late husband was dealing in art fraud and she tries to find out the truth. All the while, her mother badgers her about getting remarried because how could a young, rich widow not get remarried (though I have been spoiled on the fact that she does remarry eventually).

Cozy mysteries - give 'em a try.

Music - As I've mentioned on Facebook, Alex loves to listen to Queen. He falls asleep listening to all the Queen music I have on repeat on an iPod playlist I created after we figured this out. Consequently, my knowledge of the band and their music has increased considerably since Alex was born. I think my favorite song of theirs that I've discovered (few things can beat out "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" overall. Or "The Show Must Go On," for that matter) is "The Invisible Man." I'd never heard this song until I pulled up a YouTube playlist of Queen music and I thought the accompanying video was just a lot of fun -

Other notable tunes: Under Pressure, Radio Gaga, Innuendo, Somebody to Love, White Queen

I've tried slowly introducing Alex to other musical artists and while there are some that he seems to responds positively to ("Thunder Island" by Jay Ferguson caught his attention this morning), he always goes back to Queen.

Eh, there are worse things to have to listen to on infinite repeat. Especially where kids are concerned.

That's what I've got for now. I might think of other things later, but that's a good overview.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: Castles Old Stone Poems - Module 14 Poetry

Title: Castles Old Stone Poems Module 14 Poetry

Genre: Castles Old Stone Poems (Lewis, J. P. and Dotlich, R. K., 2006) i

Book Summary: Castles Old Stone Poems is a collection of poems about famous towers and castles, including The Castle in the Air from Viking legends, the Tower of London, and other famous castles and palaces.

Impressions: The poems are all nicely done, but some stand out a lot more than their fellows. The London Tower with its talks of executions, Bunratty Castle’s poem is more vivid in terms of the fights and blood spilt there, Himeji Castle’s walls built of Japanese ghost stories, images like that really set the best poems apart from the others.

Professional Review: From Booklist (2006)
Castles have a perennial allure for young people, and this illustrated poetry collection celebrates some of the most legendary, from England's Bodiam Castle and the Tower of London to Japan's Himeji Castle and California's Hearst Castle. Each spread focuses on a different location, and the words often reflect a contemporary viewer imagining long-ago life: "What splendor did the maid see / from that window long ago?" Lewis and Dotlich are frank about the bloodshed and terror that are part of the history, when "beheadings were as easy as breathing." Children may need help with some of the allusions ("Windows pierce the sky like hushed haiku," for example) and the historical context. Burr's paintings add immediacy and sense to the words in dramatic scenes of medieval courts and castles, and the extensive appended material includes a bibliography, time line, and background about each site. Suggest this for classroom exercises that show how poetry can help bring history into the present. Gillian Engberg

Library Uses: Some of the poems could be used in storytimes about knights and castles, or in programs to help kids or teens write their own poems. Given the more martial elements of the poems it could be a good way to make poems cool for boys too.

Readalikes: David Macauly’s Castle would be a great book to pair with this collection of poems, with its detailed and beautiful drawings adding context and life to the poems about castles. On a more poetic note, any of Shel Silverstein’s books of poems would be good books to recommend as well. It wouldn’t work for all readers, and some would need help from parents, but readers who enjoyed these poems could potentially highly enjoy Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s the Lady of Shalott.

Engberg, G. (2006). Castles: Old stone poems. The Booklist, 103(3), 51. Retrieved from
Lewis, J. P. and Dotlich, R. K. (2006). Castles Old Stone Poems. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong.

Jared's Book Reviews: "Pink and Say" by Patricia Polacco - Module 10 Historical Fiction

Genre: Pink and Say (Polacco, 1994) is a powerful historical book

Book Summary: Pink and Say is the story of a very young Union flag bearer, Say, injured and left for dead after battle, who is found and rescued by a Black teen, Pink, who had also been separated from his unit. They recuperate at Pink’s mothers hut, on the partially burned out remains of the plantation where they were held as slaves. Eventually marauders kill Pink’s mother, and the pair is captured trying to get back to the Union army. Say survives the prison camp and lives a long full live, while Pink is executed almost immediately on arrival at the camp because he is Black. The last bit of the book talks about how the story is true, as Say is the authors ancestor.

Impressions: This is one of the most powerful tales of the Civil War I have read in many a year. As simple and uncomplicated as the language and story are it is very profound and moving. That the protagonists themselves were quite young only adds to the tragedy and heroism of their actions.

Professional Review: From Kirkus Reviews (2017)
A white youth from Ohio, Sheldon Russell Curtis (Say), and a black youth from Georgia, Pinkus Aylee (Pink), meet as young soldiers with the Union army. Pink finds Say wounded in the leg after a battle and brings him home with him. Pink's mother, Moe Moe Bay, cares for the boys while Say recuperates, feeding and comforting them and banishing the war for a time. Whereas Pink is eager to go back and fight against "the sickness" that is slavery, Say is afraid to return to his unit. But when he sees Moe Moe Bay die at the hands of marauders, he understands the need to return. Pink and Say are captured by Confederate soldiers and brought to the notorious Andersonville prison camp. Say is released months later, ill and undernourished, but Pink is never released, and Polacco reports that he was hanged that very first day because he was black. Polacco (Babushka Baba Yaga, 1993, etc; My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, above) tells this story, which was passed down for generations in her family (Say was her great-great-grandfather), carefully and without melodrama so that it speaks for itself. The stunning illustrations -- reminiscent of the German expressionist Egon Shiele in their use of color and form -- are completely heartbreaking. A spectacular achievement. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4- 8)

Library Uses: A older storytime about the civil war would be a good use of this book, or during Black History Month. Honestly, despite being a picture book this book would be just as useful for a teen program, read aloud with the art up on a projector or big screen tv. The simple and direct narrative would make it even more powerful for teens.

Readalikes: Any number of books on the civil war could be recommended here, along with some other fine picture books about events in roughly the same time period, such Papa’s Mechanical Fish about an attempt at making a submarine in 1851, or Paper Son, Lee’s Journey to America, which talks about a twelve year old orphan emigrating from China to San Francisco.

Polacco, P. (1994). Pink and Say. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers Group.
Kirkus Reviews. (2017). Pink and Say. [Review of the book Pink and Say]. Kirkus Media Reviews, LLC. Retrieved from

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: "Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein" by Don Brown - Module 12 Biographies

Genre: Odd Boy Out (Brown, 2004) is a simple biography of Albert Einstein, lingering more on his school years than after, fitting for a book intended for children still in school. It also does not delve deeply into his scientific discoveries, which would be too complicated for the intended reading level, nor does it touch on the issues of WWII and how and why Einstein moved to America nor his involvement in the development of atomic weapons.

Book Summary: Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein is a picture book biography of Albert, starting with his unusual size at birth, his moody and angry disposition as a child, and a lot on his schooling, including how he ignored his work and areas that he didn’t care about, with a very brief discussion of his work in the patent office, marriage, children, and a bit about his discoveries.
Impressions: I am somewhat dissatisfied with this book’s focus on his schooling and having so little on his scientific career and adult life. I do think the schooling is important for a book targeted as school age children, but leaving off almost entirely his marriage, children, and the things he studied does the reader a disservice.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Brown (Mack Made Movies) shapes an impressionistic portrait of Einstein in his early years, opening with comments of family members gazing upon the newborn (his grandmother says he is "much too fat" and "his mother fears his head is too big"). Writing in the present tense, the author shares anecdotes that reveal young Einstein's character: his temper tantrums scare away his tutor; he brings "a single-minded attention" to such pastimes as building elaborate houses of cards; his parents so encourage his independence that they allow him to wander the streets of Munich alone at the age of four; and the boy early on displays an extraordinary skill at and fascination with mathematics (though other schoolwork bores him). True to the book's title, Brown emphasizes ways in which Einstein fails to fit in with his peers. He dislikes sports, is disturbed rather than excited at the sight of soldiers parading in the street and, as the only Jewish student in school, is taunted by his classmates. The writing occasionally becomes muddy when discussing Einstein's scientific thinking and discoveries ("He says that everything is in motion and when something moves very fast, as fast as light, strange things happen, like clocks running slower and objects becoming shorter"), targeting the book more to kids who identify with the hero's personality traits than to those interested in the man's ideas. But Brown's narrative and appealingly quirky pen-and-ink and watercolor art effectively illuminate the eccentricities and intelligence of Einstein the boy and the man. Ages 4-8.

Library Uses: This book could be useful for any number of STEM programs, inspiration for the kids who might think they aren’t good enough for science fields, or a storytime about famous people.

Readalikes: Gene Barretta has a series of picture book biographies of other famous scientists, such as Neo Leo on da Vinci, and Now and Ben about Benjamin Franklin. Karl, Get Out of the Garden, about Carl Linnaeus would be another interesting kid appropriate biography, about the father of the modern classification system for plants and animals.

Brown, D. (2004). Odd Boy Out Young Albert Einstein. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). Odd Boy Out. [Review of the book Odd Boy Out]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Jared's Book Reviews: "Hold Me Closer, Necromancer" by Lish McBride - Module 8 Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Genre: Hold Me Closer Necromancer (McBride, 2010) is a fine example of urban fantasy, that is, a fantasy book set in modern day, in a city where the city setting is an important part of the book. It follows the more common pattern of having the fantastical elements hidden from the world at large, rather than having some explanation for how the world knows about magic and the resulting ways it is different from the real world.

Book Summary: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer’s protagonist is something of a loser, a fry cook college dropout. A chance encounter gets him on the hit list of a powerful necromancer, Douglas, one who seeks to subvert or kill any other necromancers in his domain, usually stealing their powers. After having the still talking head of his friend Brooke dropped on his doorstep delivering an ultimatum from the necromancer Sam learns that at birth his mother had his powers hidden to keep him safe from Douglas.

Kidnapped and caged in the necromancer’s basement, Sam’s only help in trying to escape is Bridin, a lycanthrope teen who is the daughter of the werewolf alpha, and a ghost like Harbinger who looks like a catholic schoolgirl.

Eventually a full battle breaks out, not surprising given Bridin has some rather angry werewolf brothers, and Sam ends up killing Douglas and inheriting his place and power.

Impressions: I really liked this one. While it isn’t entirely unknown for a fantasy series to have a protagonist (or love interest) with ‘bad powers’ (see most paranormal romance ever) this book does it with a little more subtlety, and not to give the protagonist the ‘bad boy’ vibe most paranormal romances are going for.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
A title this good has a lot to live up to, and debut author McBride proves she's largely up to the task in this scary and irreverent romp. College dropout Sam is underwhelmed by his life as a fast food fry cook, when a game of potato hockey behind the restaurant goes awry and throws him into the sights of an evil and powerful necromancer named Douglas Montgomery. Sam turns out to be a necromancer too, making him Douglas's target for either slavery or death. With help from Brid, a teenage werewolf/fey hybrid who is Douglas's prisoner, and a ghost named Ashley, Sam must figure out how to escape Douglas, keep his loved ones alive, and use his power while avoiding its more horrific aspects. McBride pulls no punches and hits where readers will least expect it; the story can be gory and violent, but isn't gratuitously graphic. A solid start that concludes with the promise of Sam's power growing greater and darker, secrets getting deeper, and more fun to follow. Ages 14–up. (Oct.) 
Library Uses: There is a lot of modern fantasy that is quite popular, this book would go well with a teen program discussing them, maybe titled “modern fantasy… besides Harry Potter,” or something like that.

Readalikes: There are a lot of other fantasy novels that could appeal to readers of this one, though urban fantasy doesn’t seem to be quite as common/popular in YA as opposed to adult fiction. Still, Artemis Fowl could be a good go to series, as well as the Alcatraz Vs. series which, while written for a bit younger audience, is enjoyable by reader of any age. Dan Wells's John Cleaver series would be another good one, with a protagonist with even darker tones than the necromancy of Sam.

McBride, L. (2010). Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). Hold Me Closer Necromancer. [Review of the book Hold Me Closer, Necromancer]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: "The Ruby in the Smoke" by Philip Pullman - Module 9 Mysteries

Genre: The Ruby in the Smoke (Pullman, 1985) is, strictly speaking, closer to a thriller than a mystery, because while there is a mystery that is central to the plot there is not quite enough details in the clues for the reader to solve the mystery along-side the protagonist, and indeed the reader knows many details of the antagonists and plot that the protagonist does not know.

Book Summary: Ruby in the Smoke centers around a young lady, Sally Lockhart, whose father has died while on a trip to the East to investigate irregularities in his shipping business. Presented with a mysterious note warning of “the Seven Blessings,” the mere mention of which gives one of the other men involved with her father’s business a fatal heart attack, Sally struggles to fend for herself now that she is without father or mother, while trying to solve the mystery that got her father killed.

Slowly Sally learns that there are intertwining mysteries at play, one, the opium smuggling that was the cause of her father’s death, and a stolen ruby from India that is somehow hers, hidden by a friend of her father’s and pursued by an old criminal who will stop at nothing to have it.

Impressions: I really didn’t like this book, but if I am being honest a large part of that is I went in expecting a mystery – one I could solve if I was good enough and paid attention – and instead was handed the answers by a book that is more properly a thriller.

That aside, however, the book has some anachronisms in its presentation of Victorian England that were jarring, and even as a thriller the plot had some serious issues in places, with some dropped threads, plot holes, and an ending that was far too sudden and abrupt.

Given the amount of drug use in the book (and in fact instruction on how one smokes opium) I would contest that the reading level for this book is a bit higher than the 12 Publishers Weekly suggests.
Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Pullman's Victorian melodrama boasts a sufficiency of mystery, murder and hairbreadth escapes involving a big cast of honest and ignoble types. ""On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October 1872,'' the story begins, young Sally Lockhart is in London where she tries to find out the meaning of ``the Seven Blessings.'' The phrase appears in a message from her recently deceased father, drowned in the South China Sea. When a colleague of her father hears the words, he dies instantly of a heart attack. That event marks the start of crises that go on with no let-up in the colorful Dickensian tale. Sally's legacy, supposedly a fantastic ruby, is nowhere to be found. A gang of cutthroats pursue the girl and her loyal allies, as the story sweeps on to a resounding close. (12-up)
Library Uses: Anachronisms aside, the book could be useful as a more adventure packed look into Victorian England, as well as the trade with the east, including the unsavory aspects of opium smuggling. It could also be used in a program about drug use, the uncommon nature of the drug of choice (opium) would be unusual enough that it might impact the teens in attendance more than talk about drugs they already know about.

Readalikes: Given the feel of the book, and the strong female lead, I would lean more towards suggesting Steampunk and action/thriller novels over other historical fiction books, mystery or otherwise. Jon Del Arroz’s recent For Steam and Country is a fun adventure also with a female lead dealing with her father’s death, and The Legacy of Dragons series is another action/Steampunk series with a female lead by Jack Campbell. If it looked like the patron would enjoy it I probably would suggest Penny Dreadful and the Clockwork Copper, in shameless self-promotion, as it has a similar feel to the world and two teen female protagonists. (Well, one teen and one two-year-old robot girl, but mentally she’s young adult, more or less.)

Publishers Weekly. (2017). The Ruby in the Smoke. [Review of the book The Ruby in the Smoke]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from
Pullman, P. (1985). The Ruby in the Smoke. New York, NY: Random House Inc.

Jared's Book Reviews: "A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl" by Tanya Lee Stone - Module 15 Often Challenged Books

Genre: A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl (Stone, 2006) is a book that is often challenged or banned, because of its nature as a frank and very open depiction of teen sexuality, indeed, that is the entire book, there is no other plot to it. The book gets more flak than it deserves – it does not, as some comments I saw argued – reveling or advocating for teen promiscuity, but is trying to realistically talk about what actually happens, and talk about the risks involved.

Book Summary: A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl is a simplistic but honest look at three girls experiences dating (though the term is used loosely) the same boy in high school. The first girl is able to resist giving in, the second doesn’t want to resist, but ends up hurt when she falls for the boy, and the third is similarly hurt when she falls in love much more than the boy does with her.

Impressions: I am obviously not in the target audience for this book. Not even remotely. That said, I think it has some merit as an honest (attempt) at looking at the real issues and risks of teens dating life. I think the book still underplays some of these risks, and the verse style of the book is not particularly well used, lacking in much else in the way of poetic stylings or imagery besides the verse format, but then again, more vivid and detailed imagery would not be a good addition to this book about teens, given the subject matter. I was also quite bored throughout most of the book, as there is no plot beyond the boy in question and his pursuit of the three point of view characters.

Professional Review: From School Library Journal (2006)
STONE, Tanya Lee. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl. 223p. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Jan. 2006. Tr $14.95. ISBN 0-385-74702-0; PLB $16.99. ISBN 0-385-90946-2.1. LC number unavailable.
Gr 9 Up-Three girls succumb to the charms of one sexy high school senior and emerge wiser for the experience in this energetic novel in verse. Josie is a self-assured freshman who values her girlfriends over boys until a hot jock focuses his attention on her and her simmering hormones break into a full boil. Confused by her behavior, yet unable to control her desire, she acts out every romantic cliché she has ever disdained, until the boy drops her and she experiences the chill of rejection. It is Judy Blume's Forever that sparks Josie's fire again, and finding a few blank pages at the back of the library's copy, she sends a warning to the girls of her school. Next readers meet Nicolette, a junior who sees her sexuality as power. A loner, she's caught by surprise at her own reaction when this popular boy takes notice of her. Suddenly she thinks she sees the difference between sex and love, and then, just as suddenly, he's gone. Finally, Aviva, a pretty, smart, artsy, and funny senior, is stunned when the jock seems to want her. She gives up her virginity, only to be disappointed in both the sex and the boy. Furious, Aviva heads to the library to check out Forever, now crammed with the words of girls who suffered the same fate at the hands of the same boy. The free verse gives the stories a breathless, natural flow and changes tone with each narrator. The language is realistic and frank, and, while not graphic, it is filled with descriptions of the teens and their sexuality. This is not a book that will sit quietly on any shelf; it will be passed from girl to girl to girl.-Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL
Library Uses: Aside from potential discussions for banned book week, this could be useful for an older teen program about growing up and/or sexuality. It could also be useful for a teen girl program about some of the risks in dating and boys. Those uses could potentially run into problems of the sort that try to ban the book in the first place.
The best use for this book, I think, would be a program for parents, a discussion about what things are really like for teens and how they can help them navigate the ‘rapids’ of life.

Readalikes: Given that the book itself references the book many times, Forever by Judy Blume is an obvious suggestion for teens who read this book. Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has a similar theme, and I actually would recommend Twilight as something of a counterpoint to the book, with a bit more old-fashioned idea of dating… sort of.

Stone, T. L. (2006). A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl. New York, NY: Random House Inc.
Oliver, S. (2006). A bad boy can be good for a girl. School Library Journal, 52(1), 144. Retrieved from

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: "The Adventures of Captain Underpants" by Dav Pilkey - Module 13 Series Books

Genre: The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Pilkey, 1997) is an illustrated series book, very episodic in nature, with characters and general plots that don’t change much from book to book. Two prank prone boys, a mean principal who is hypnotized to think he is a superhero, and truly outlandish (and silly) plots to take over/destroy the planet by the even sillier super villains. So very predictable and relaxing/comfortable for readers.

Book Summary: The Adventures of Captain Underpants is a rather silly story of a pair of 4th graders who illustrate/write comics when they aren’t pulling pranks. Their principle hates them, and after recording them pranking almost the whole school at the big football game he blackmails them into being good and doing chores for him.
Their brilliant plan to get out of this is to buy a hypno-ring and get the video away from him. Only, in the process, they make him think he is their superhero creation Captain Underpants. Before they can undo the hypnosis he runs off to foil actual crimes, and the pair follow to try to keep themselves from getting into more trouble.

Impressions: I honestly don’t get why this book is so often challenged/banned. Sure the humor is juvenile… but it is a juvenile book. The most offensive thing in it is a bit of potty humor. Maybe an argument could be made that the prank prone duo are bad role models, but that is rather weak given it is supposed to be comedy not serious.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Few things command disrespect like the sight of a man wearing whitie-tighties. However, the bald and barefoot Captain Underpants happens to be a superhero. As one character notes, ""Most superheroes look like they're flying around in their underwear....Well, this guy actually is flying around in his underwear!"" The Captain, defender of ""Truth, Justice, and all that is Pre-Shrunk and Cottony,"" is the comic-book invention of two troublemaking fourth-graders, George and Harold. He comes to life after the boys use a mail-order device to hypnotize their diabolical school principal, who sheds his outergarments and battles crime in only a cape and Y-fronts. As his creators try to snap him out of the trance, Captain Underpants threatens bank robbers with ""Wedgie Power"" and foils the villainous Dr. Diaper ("" `You know,' said George, `up until now this story was almost believable' ""). Pilkey (Dog Breath) uses a sitcom-like formula to set up the rivalry between the boys and the principal, and to strip the authority figure of dignity. After a tepid exposition, he falls back on the notion that undies and mild bathroom humor are funny in themselves-- and, given his intended audience, he's probably right. Line drawings of the slapstick action appear on every page, and ""Flip-O-Rama"" climactic sequences create an agreeably corny ""motion-picture"" effect. But the lowbrow jokes (the Captain uses an elastic waistband to apprehend an evildoer) chiefly constitute this tale's harmless, non-gross appeal. Ages 8-12.

Library Uses: The obvious use here would be as part of a discussion about why books get banned, and how we as librarians react to attempts at censorship. It could actually also be used as in a program about bullying, with focus being on the other kids reactions to the string of pranks the kids pull in the first part of the book.

Readalikes: Some similar books are almost too obvious – the Fantastic Fart Brothers Save the World! Comes to mind, along with other intentionally gross-out funny books. Trapped in a Video Game could be a good choice as well, the humor is different but it fits in that same area of books that specifically appeal to boys. For some kids who like Captain Underpants I might recommend Axe Cop, which is a graphic novel series written by a (then) five-year old and drawn by his older brother. Despite being written by a very young boy the level of violence in the graphic novels could be too much for the youngest readers of Captain Underpants.

Pilkey, D. (1997). The Adventures of Captain Underpants. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). The Adventures of Captain Underpants. [Review of the book The Adventures of Captain Underpants]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Jared's Book Reviews: "Hip-Pocket Papa" by Sandra Markle - Module 11 Informational Books

Genre: Hip-Pocket Papa (Markle, 2010) is an informational book about the life-cycle of Hip-Pocket Frogs, who life in the rainforests of Australia and have the interesting adaptation that the tadpoles are carried around by the father in the titular hip-pockets. As an informational book it presents information foremost, though the narrative is not that of a single real frog, but a compilation of normal and potential occurrences for an average member of the species.

Book Summary: Hip-Pocket Papa follows a single male frog from just after he has mated and the eggs are hidden beneath the leaves on the forest floor until the frog deposits the newly transformed froglets onto the damp banks of a stream where they can find prey. Encounters with predators are also included, and some issues with it being a particularly dry season.

Impressions: While I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail on how the hip-pockets actually work, the narrative is delightful and informative, with a look as a really unusual creature and how it raises offspring.

Professional Review: From Kirkus Reviews (2017)
Building on the appealing notion of nurturing fathers, Markle and Marks present this tiny Australian frog in the context of its natural environment. Both male and female hip-pocket frogs guard their developing eggs, but after they’ve hatched, the male keeps his tadpoles safe in hip pockets until they have used up their yolks and developed lungs. The poetic text follows one male journeying to a new and wetter home, describing the creatures he eats and those that want to eat him along the way. Without explicitly using the phrase, she even offers an example of the food chain: A quoll catches the dusky antechinus hunting the frog. These and other Australian animals from the story are further described in an animal glossary at the end. The detailed, realistic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations, mostly double-page spreads, provide a frog’s-eye view of the shadowy forest floor, pulling out to show predators overhead and, once, for a panorama of the temperate rainforest. This intriguing, informative introduction is a worthy successor to the team’s Finding Home (2008). (author’s note, facts, further sources) (Informational picture book. 5-8)
Library Uses: Any unit on frogs could benefit from this book, or a STEM program about unusual animals. (Or Australian animals, which has a lot of overlap) Spring programing could also be the setting for using this book, the circle of life/life-cycles, baby animals, etc.

Readalikes: For readers interested in informational books about animals, a good place to start is the Zoobooks magazines, while readers more after books about frogs – fictional or not – would appreciate the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel, or even the Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen. Weird Frogs by Chris G. Early could also be a good pick, given that hip-pocket frogs are rather unusual, as frogs go.

Kirkus Reviews. (2017). Hip-Pocket Papa. [Review of the book Hip-Pocket Papa]. Kirkus Media, LLC. Retrieved from
Markle, S. (2010). Hip-Pocket Papa. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'Brian's Winter' by Gary Paulsen

Title: Brian’s Winter Realistic Fiction

Genre: Brian’s Winter (Paulsen, 1996) is certainly a great example of ‘Realistic Fiction,’ though the events involved are hardly commonplace events for modern they are painstakingly kept as real as possible, and the facts and methods of the survival techniques Brian has to use or reinvent are deeply rooted in real practices.

Book Summary: While I had read Hatchet many times as a child I wasn’t aware this book even existed until I saw it on the reading list. Now having read it I think it is actually the better ending to the original book – Brian is not rescued during the summertime, but has to survive a harsh Canadian winter with only his new skills and a few tools to survive, including having to make more powerful weapons to hunt and defend himself with, learn how to make a better shelter and clothing, and even snowshoes.

Impressions: Brian’s Winter is of the kind of books I wish we saw more new of in the last decade or so. High adventure with responsible and independent (if not always by choice) protagonists, and real problem solving skills highlighted without sugar-coating the problems involved. It is also important in the level of detail included about skills and tools that were commonplace among mankind for centuries, only to be replaced by newer technology, from flint napped arrowheads to sewing crude clothing from dried animal skins.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
First there was Hatchet, Paulsen's classic tale of a boy's survival in the north woods after a plane crash. Then came a sequel, The River, and, last year, Father Water, Mother Woods, a collection of autobiographical essays introduced as the nonfiction counterpart to Hatchet. Now Paulsen backs up and asks readers to imagine that Brian, the hero, hadn't been rescued after all. His many fans will be only too glad to comply, revisiting Brian at the onset of a punishing Canadian winter. The pace never relents-the story begins, as it were, in the middle, with Brian already toughened up and his reflexes primed for crisis. Paulsen serves up one cliffhanger after another (a marauding bear, a charging elk), and always there are the supreme challenges of obtaining food and protection against the cold. Authoritative narration makes it easy for readers to join Brian vicariously as he wields his hatchet to whittle arrows and arrowheads and a lance, hunts game, and devises clothes out of animal skins; while teasers at the ends of chapters keep the tension high (``He would hunt big tomorrow, he thought.... But as it happened he very nearly never hunted again''). The moral of the story: it pays to write your favorite author and ask for another helping. Ages 12-up.

Library Uses: Brian’s Winter is a short enough novel that it would be perfect for a ‘boys adventure club’ setting, essentially an older storytime like event, perhaps read in monthly installments over the course of an actual winter. It would work better if the boys had read Hatchet first, or at least knew what it was about, but then, that could just be made part of the program – start with Hatchet in the Spring/Summer, and read both across the year, along with activities tied into the events of the book, like crafts to make paper bag ‘leather’ or have demonstrations of arrowhead making, things of that nature.

Readalikes: Brian’s Winter is part of a fairly broad category of adventure/survival stories which seems to have peaked a couple decades ago, though it has roots going back much farther. Jack London’s The Call of the Wild or White Fang would be good companion books, or My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. While it is somewhat thematically different Julie of the Wolves would also be a good choice, also by Jean Craighead George.

Paulsen, G. (1996). Brian’s Winter. New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf.

Publishers Weekly. (2017). Brian’s Winter. [Review of the book Brian’s Winter]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from    

Jared's Book Reviews: 'A Penguin Story' by Antoinette Portis

Title: A Penguin Story Picture Books

Genre: A Penguin Story (Portis, 2009) is a very good example of a picture book, one with a story and interesting characters, but where the illustrations – and here specifically the colors of the illustrations – take center stage, with a level of detail that is easy to miss at first glance.

Book Summary: This book is a charming and cute story about a penguin wondering if there is anything in the world that isn’t white, black, or blue, and her journey to find out, at last coming across a scientific expedition filled with orange things, which she shares with her flock.

Impressions: A Penguin Story is simplistic on the surface – most of the book is done in three colors, white, black, and blue, with orange (or any other color really) being the quest of the main character. Despite the limited palate the illustrations are detailed and pretty, of particular note the page with the few words ‘Blue, blue, blue. Forever.’ with a vast sea beyond the white cliffs, in a very deep blue speckled with lighter blue throughout. Aside from the story itself, it is a useful and thought provoking look into what we see around us, and what other colors there are out there. Depending on where the reader is, it could start a hunt for what colors are rare in their surroundings – browns in the city, while (as an example) out at the family ranch brown is everywhere and more vibrant colors like orange or purple absent. Whatever the local colors, the book is sure to make the attentive reader stop and really look at their surroundings again, rather than just recognizing them.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Edna the penguin yearns for something more stimulating than a minimalist horizon. The endless white of snow and ice, the black of the night sky and the “Blue, blue, blue. Forever” of the sky and ocean only increase her ennui. Readers know alternatives exist because a sunset-orange seaplane goes by when Edna’s back is turned; brilliant green and orange endpapers, too, contrast with the limited palette and blocky compositions. Edna treks over icebergs to a revelatory destination, then brings her brood to meet a friendly human expedition camping in ambulance-orange domes and wearing matching jumpsuits; she proudly waddles home with a souvenir orange rubber glove. Portis (Not a Box ) celebrates those who long for art and, with her own playful rendering, she inspires readers to celebrate, too. Ages 4–8.

Library Uses: A Penguin Story would be very useful in a storytime setting, especially ones with themes of color, animals, or winter, and would also be useful for an art program, specifically one challenging the participants to make a painting with only a few base colors and shades thereof.

Readalikes: A Book With No Pictures could be an interesting comparison book, playing off of the mostly limited palate of A Penguin Book in an even more severe way. 365 Penguins is another fun book featuring penguins, and even a similar black, white, and orange color scheme, though is more about math than colors. Penguin and Pumpkin (along with others of the series) is another fun and pretty book about adventurous penguins seeking something beyond the ice – in this case, Fall.

               Portis, A. (2009). A Penguin Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). A Penguin Story. [Review of the book A Penguin Story]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 14, 2017

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Review/Recap of Once Upon a Time Episode 7.02 "A Pirate's Life" - Spoilers!

I will FULLY accept this explanation.

At the end of last season when most of the main cast took off after their contracts expired, I (and many others, I'm sure) wondered what in the crap was going to happen to Hook and Emma. I mean, they'd just had this big splashy wedding episode and it was their happily ever after and that's what the show had been building up to for six seasons... and suddenly one half of the Captain Swan ship was just... not going to be around?


But how to make this work?

I imagine that the OUAT Writers' Room went digging in the obscurest backstory details to figure out how to dig themselves out of this hole that contract negotiations and ABC executives had unceremoniously shoved them into. And found a loophole called the Mirror... sorry, the Wish Universe. Remember the wish that Evil Queen!Regina made in season six that put everyone back into the Enchanted Forest and Emma wasn't the Savior and Hook was an old, fat drunken comic relief character?

Yep. They brought that back. And even gave old!Hook a backstory and character and a youth lift so we could be graced with Colin O'Donoghue's rugged good looks (*cough* I mean, what?)

So... the Hyperion Heights Hook is NOT the OG Hook. The Hook we know and love is living happily with Emma and their new pirate baby in Storybrooke awaiting the inevitable crappy direct-to-DVD Disney sequel for their kid. Instead, Officer Rogers is the Mirror... Wish Universe Hook.

(Oh screw it - he's "Mirror Universe" Hook. I'm not bound by copyright claims for this thing.)

Basically, they've given themselves a clean slate with an old character and I'm intrigued by this development. I'm also somewhat impressed by it. I thought that they'd have to shoehorn some weird retcon thing that was going to RUIN EVERYTHING... but they didn't. All because they had one seemingly-throwaway joke character that they could retool and make cool again.

I approve this message.

Other things I liked:
- Is it just me, or did they tone down Victoria Belfrey's insane liposuction mouth? Too bad, she's still the Evil Lipmother.
- Detective Rumple is the same asshole as ever... but with a heart of gold? Maybe?
- All of Storybrooke's happy endings mean that Archie Hopper's therapist business isn't doing so hot... but his wedding officiating gig is booming. THAT was beautiful. Second only to Mirror Universe Hook, that was probably my favorite twist of this episode.

Basically, we're back to the old formula of introducing a new character in modern day, flashbacking to their origin story in fairy-tale-world, showing how their cursed self is similar to their fairy tale self, and they're awesome. Plus, some evil queen character is always trying to ruin everyone's life.

Yep. We've seen this movie before. Certain things in life never change: high school girls grow up into bitchy women, cursed fairy tale characters remember who they are in reality, and pineapple on pizza is the greatest ever.

(I will fight anyone on that last bit.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'Los Gatos Black on Halloween' by Marisa Montes

Title: Los Gatos Black on Halloween Other Award Winners

Genre: Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2006) is a lovely example of the Belpre Award winners, a very good book in its own right with a very strong Hispanic influence, both in the art, the content, and the word choices.

Book Summary: The book is a very cute rhyming picture book about Halloween and El Día de los Muertos, drawing on imagery from both such as black cats, the dead rising, witches, and other monsters and spooky things, ending humorously with the monsters being scared away by trick-or-treaters.

Impressions: I am really looking forward to using this one in a couple weeks for my storytime. The art is beautiful, drawing on a variety of styles and influences from Mexico and the US, and very intricate with small details for the children to discover. (My favorite is the vampire trying to fix his hair in a mirror he doesn’t appear in) The rhyming is well done, with Spanish words peppered throughout along with the English equivalent (or near enough) in the same couplet to ease understanding in the readers who aren’t bilingual, and overall it is simply a charming book that will draw the kids in and their parents.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Halloween and the Day of the Dead overlap in this atmospheric, bilingual romp. Montes (Juan Bobo Goes to Work) composes serviceable stanzas, using English and Spanish words as synonyms: "Los gatos black with eyes of green,/ Cats slink and creep on Halloween." This dual-language approach can be redundant ("At medianoche midnight strikes..."), yet Morales (Harvesting Hope ) holds readers' attention with surreal, faintly macabre spreads in dim turquoise and clay-brown hues, illuminated by fuschia and flame orange. Witches fly broomsticks like skateboard whizzes, a headstone references Mexican comic Cantinflas and sallow-faced muertos dance until children arrive: "The thing that monsters most abhor/ Are human niños at the door!" Ages 4-8.

Library Uses: Los Gatos Black on Halloween is perfect for the bilingual storytimes I do. It is mostly in English, but with enough Spanish to be educational and interesting, and it even repeats the words used in Spanish in the same couplet in Spanish to help with recognition.

Readalikes: This book would go well with other spooky picture books, both for Halloween and el Día de los Muertos. Some classics like The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything would be a good choice, or other bilingual books like The Day of the Dead / El Día De Lost Muertos, as well as any number of series books with a book about Halloween, such as Clifford’s Halloween.

Montes, M. (2006). Los Gatos Black on Halloween. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). Los Gatos Black on Halloween. [Review of the book Los Gatos Black on Halloween]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'The Whipping Boy' by Sid Fleischman

Title: The Whipping Boy Newbery Winners

Genre: The Whipping Boy (Fleischman, 1986) is one of the older Newbery books I read, and that my library carries, but still one of the more commonly read. I vaguely recall reading it before, years ago, and, given my strong belief that we as librarians need to do more to encourage boys to read, I thought I’d look again at the Newbery book most likely to be read by boys – what might be the shortest one.

Book Summary: The prince is a massive brat, but, being a prince, he can’t be punished with even so much as a mild spanking. So, in a bit of logic that escapes the author and readers alike, a commoner boy is chosen to receive them for the prince. When the prince decides to run away he insists the Whipping Boy go with him, and he, for his part, sees it as a chance to escape the constant whippings.
They quickly fall into trouble with a pair of highwayman, a potato seller, and a girl with a dancing bear. Throughout it all is the Whipping Boy, with more knowledge of the outside world and things like reading and writing than the Prince, to try and keep them safe, while the Prince slowly learns a thing or two, and ultimately manages to be of some use.

Impressions: The Whipping Boy is a very interesting book, in part because I don’t really think it would be published today, much less win the Newbery. That isn’t to say it is a bad book, not at all, I quite liked it and it certainly tells a fine story. But compare it to the honor book from the following year – Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and, well, the comparison is not favorable.
Then again, I don’t even recognize the honor books from that year, so perhaps it was simply not a particularly good year for children’s literature.
It does manage to do well what I hoped it would – tell a story that boys would enjoy and relate with. Both Jeremy and the Prince have traits and thoughts that would resonate with most boys – the unfairness of life, the feeling that your parents are ignoring you, and the like, simply turned up to eleven and made much more visible, especially the unfairness of life for the poor Whipping Boy.
Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
With his flair for persuading readers to believe in the ridiculous, Fleischman scores a hit with his new creation. Sis's skillful pictures emphasize events in the adventures of the orphan Jemmy, kept in his king's palace to be thrashed for the offenses committed by the royal heir, known as Prince Brat. It is forbidden to punish Brat, whose tricks multiply until Jemmy is tempted to escape the daily round of flogging. But the prince himself takes off and forces the whipping boy to go with him. As they get into and out of trouble on the outside, Jemmy hears that he has been accused of abducting Brat. When the prince arranges for their return to the palace, poor Jemmy fears the worst, but things turn out for the best at the story's satisfying close. Colorful types like a thief called Hold-Your-Nose Billy, Betsy and her dancing bear Petunia, et al., increase the fun. (7-11)
Library Uses: The Whipping Boy would actually be of use for storytimes, despite the older audience, because it is short enough that it could be read over only a few consecutive storytimes. With something visual added on – felt board, puppets, something like that – it could do a good job of keeping the kids’ attention and serve as an introduction to chapter books.

Readalikes: Books like Weasel by Cynthia DeFelice is another I would recommend. While the setting is frontier rather than medieval, it has a similar feel of adventure to it. Other possibilities would be Jack London’s books, or perhaps Lloyd Alexander’s Book of the Three, with a protagonist who is quite humble in his origins like Jeremy is.

Publishers Weekly. (2017). The Whipping Boy. [Review of the book The Whipping Boy]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from
Fleischman, S. (1986). The Whipping Boy. New York, NY: Harper Trophy.