"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Priscilla and the Pink Planet

Priscilla and the Pink Planet
Author: Nathaniel Hobbie
Illustrator: Jocelyn Hobbie
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
ISBN-10: 0316735795
ISBN-13: 978-0316735797

Priscilla lives on a planet where everything is pink. One day she gets so fed up with the color pink that she sets off to look for some other color, any other color. The story follows Priscilla on her quest to find a color other than dreary old pink. Priscilla finally sees a beautiful multicolored butterfly. She chases it only to find that the Queen of the pink planet has caught the butterfly in her pink net because she loves only pink and all other colors are forced to live underground.

Priscilla and the Pink Planet is a thoroughly engaging story told all in Seuss style rhyme. It’s a fun book to read aloud and has a bouncy, happy feel to it. Priscilla herself is quite the character; strong, determined and smart as a whip. She makes a good role model for little girls. I love that she doesn’t let things get her down or too discouraged. She presses onward looking for the thing she knows she needs.

The illustrations are great fun and highly detailed. I loved how the pink changes gradually and each page gets brighter and brighter with more and more colors. Priscilla herself is a cute, but not too cute little girl with a bright smile and intelligent eyes. She’s very animated and quite wonderful. She’d lend herself well to an animated movie or cartoon series. I think kids, especially little girls in the 3-8 age range will just adore her.

She has an adventurous spirit and a zest for life that’s completely addicting. It’s one of my granddaughter Jasmine’s favorite books – this one she actually sleeps with.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Author: Rafe Martin
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
ISBN-10: 0439211670
ISBN-13: 978-0439211673

“It was on the last day of the six years during which she was not to speak or laugh if she hoped to free her brothers from enchantment, that her own sentence was to be carried out. Five of the six shirts were done, but the last and littlest was still missing its left sleeve. As they led her to the stake and the fire was about to be lit, she looked up and saw six swans flying through the sky. Her heart leapt with joy at the sight of them. The swans touched the ground before her and with lowered necks walked forward. Quickly she threw the shirts over each of them. At once their swans’ skins fell off and there, once again, stood her own brothers, strong and handsome. Only the youngest and the littlest lacked a left arm, and in its place there remained a swan’s wing.”
The Six Swans
The Brothers Grimm

The Six Swans was one of my favorite tales when I was a little girl but I always wondered what happened to the last and littlest prince with his swan’s wing for an arm. Now I know.

Rafe Martin has done a marvelous thing with his Birdwing. He’s told the story of Ardwin Birdwing, the littlest prince, the one with the wing. Birdwing is a fantastic and magical coming of age story.

Ardwin is home now, back in the palace with his father the king and learning to live with his wing. The thing is sometimes the wing has a mind of its own. It wants to soar, to fly through the skies again and sometimes, so does Ardwin. He alone of the brothers looks back fondly of the time when they were swans. He can also understand the language of animals and this gives him a great sensitivity.

The people of the town and palace aren’t all so comfortable having a prince around with a swan’s wing for an arm. He’s called Prince Freak by some and feels isolated. Determined not to let his disability keep him from doing princely things, Ardwin becomes skilled with weapons, bow and arrow, spear and sword. He wins friends too, loyal ones like Stephen and Skye. The story could just end there and it would still be wonderful.

However, there is unrest in the kingdom. The neighboring mad king is pushing for an alliance by marrying Ardwin off to his widowed daughter Alisoun. He sends emissaries with a mechanical golden arm and Ardwin, fearing that his father means to cut his wing off and attach the arm to him, flees with his friends. He is determined to find the swans and himself. The adventure that follows is a wild and unexpected one and one sure to enchant you.

Rafe Martin’s characters are rich and well developed and I fell in love with this book and with Ardwin. He is an amazingly complex person and so interesting that I hung on every word. I could see this book becoming a full length animated feature film and I sure hope someone options it. It’s simply amazing. I think we'll be hearing great things of Rafe Martin.

A Gift of Gracias : The Legend of Altagracia

A Gift of Gracias : The Legend of Altagracia
Author: Julia Alvarez
Illustrator: Beatriz Vidal
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 0375824251

Julia Alvarez is the author of many wonderful books including, Before We Were Free, winner of the Pura Belpre Award. In A Gift of Gracias Ms. Alvarez pulls from the legends of her Native Dominican Republic to weave a magical, meaningful and completely charming story.

A Gift of Gracias is the story of María who loves on a finca where her family are trying unsuccessfully to grow olives. One day María’s father and Quisqueya, the Taino Indian that is part of the family bring home a basket of oranges as payment for work they had done in the city. As María’s father talks of moving his family to the city where there is work, María begins to cry into her bowl of orange pits. That night, she dreams of planting oranges on the barren land and of a beautiful woman wearing a robe of stars who says that her name is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia.

The next morning, María tells her family of the dream and they all gather the orange seeds and begin planting them, saying gracias after each individual seed is placed into the waiting earth. In just a few short months, the trees are fully grown and give a bounteous harvest of oranges. As María’s father and Quisqueya prepare to take the oranges into the city to sell them, María asks her father to bring her an image of the Señora de la Altagracia. Her father searches but no one has such an image and he and Quisqueya head back to the finca. As Quisqueya sits in the night, he sees la Señora in the sky smiling at him. Stars fall and Quisqueya catches them with his blanket.

When they arrive home, it is far too dark to pick the oranges and Quisqueya opens his blanket where miraculously an image of the Altagracia appears glowing with light enough to illuminate the orchard.

This story reminded me so much of the stories I grew up hearing from my grandmother about Juan Diego, of his tilma santa and the Virgencita de Guadalupe or Tonantzin as the Mexica called her. Ms. Alvarez writes that the Taino Indians of the Dominican Republic’s name for their land was Quisqueya which means Mother Earth and that they saw their Madre Tierra in the image of Altagracia the same way we find our Tonantzin in the brown face of our Virgen de Guadalupe.

The illustrations are gorgeous and bright. Beatriz Vidal also illustrated A Library for Juana by Pat Mora as well as several others. Her greens and oranges capture the feeling of the orange orchard and she brings that color into every page bringing the oranges and nature to the forefront even in her illustrations of the interior of the house. You can almost smell and taste the fruit. My favorite illustration in the book is the one where María is crying and her tears look just like the orange seeds in the bowl.

My grandmother would have loved this story. She grew up in the orange orchards of Piru, California and she loved sitting on her patio telling me stories of saints as she pared orange peels into long curls that fell into her apron. She had a special love for the Virgencita in all her many facets and I’m sure she would have found the Altagracia very special.

This story is beautiful and moving. It reminds us to give thanks. It teaches of another face of our powerful and generous Madre Tierra and of how much we rely on her for our sustenance. It seems to me it is also a loving tribute by the author to her native land and shows also her love of nature and the earth. Gracias to Julia Alvarez and gracias to Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia for reminding me to be grateful, for bringing to mind yet another beautiful memory of my much missed and beloved grandmother Lupe.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Title: Napí
Author:Antonio Ramírez
Illustrator: Domi
Publisher: Groundwood Books
ISBN: 0888996101

Napí is the story of a young Mazateca girl who lives in a small village near the bank of a river in Mexico. The story is ethereal and dreamlike as is the artwork. Napí likes to dream, she dreams of colors, of feelings, of herons flying through the wind. She talks of her village, of her Naa (mother in Mazateca) making tortillas and of the ancient pachota tree that is the center of her village.

Napí is poor, at least she says so. However, her story is of a girl who feels safe and secure, who loves her village, her huilpilli's in bright colors and her family. She loves the pachota tree under which her belly button cord is buried, the herons who live and nest in it and the colors of nature and her village. Color is important in this book, each page is dedicated to it and the lovely wash of watercolors in brilliant and vibrant colors enhance and compliment Napí's dreams of colors and the river.

Domi illustrated Subcommandante Marcos' The Story of Colors and I love her use of color and the way her paintings have not only a dreamlike quality but also of their indigenous look and feel. This is especially true in this book of an indigenous girl living in her Mazateca village. Domi is Mazateca herself and this book reflects her love of her people and their customs. My favorite illustration is the one where the pachota tree becomes alive at night with as the herons fill the branches like blossoms. It's simply beautiful.

Antonio Ramírez is an artist who has worked in many media, including books and murals. Thisis his first book. He lives in Mexico with his wife, Domi and they are both very active working for the rights of Native people in Mexico, especially in connection with the Zapatista movement in Chiapas through the Colectivo Callejero, of which they were founding members.

I hope you will find this book as beautiful as I did and enjoy it.

Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas

Title: Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas
Author: Lucha Corpi
Illustrator: Mira Reisberg
Publisher: Children's Book Press
ISBN: 0892391456

Lucha Corpi's
first book for children is a warm trip back to her own childhood memories of the tropical town of Jaltipán, Mexico. Where the Fireflies Dance is the story of young Lucha and her brother Victor told in the style of a Mexican grandmother telling stories by the fire. The story begins with Lucha and Victor braving a haunted house where the ghost of Juan Sebastián, once a soldier in Emiliano Zapata's army, is said to roam. The story tells of the children's love for music, of standing outside a cantina and saving their quarters just to be able to hear the music coming from the marvelous jukebox. They listen to their father sing corridos, boleros and other music every night, listen to their grandmother's stories and learn of destiny.

The story is charming and very family oriented. These are happy children secure and warm in the love of their family. It made me smile because while Lucha and Victor were very obedient, they also seemed to be just the tiniest bit traviesos. I've always had a special soft spot in my heart for traviesos. The illustrations by Mira Reisberg are colorful and bright, complimenting the story beautifully. They have a texture to them that makes me think of a collage or a brightly colored piñata.

I love books like this one, where the writing and the illustrations enhance each other so much so that you can hear the music, smell the air and feel the ghost of Juan Sebastián riding by on his horse to follow his destiny. It is evocative and heady - more of an experience than a read. ¿Qué padre, no? Read it in the warmth of the cocina with something delicious on the stove and your family all around you. Read it out loud and savor each word of the story, each color of the paintings as you would good chocolate y pan dulce.

My Diary from Here to There/Mi Diario De Aqui Hasta All

My Diary from Here to There/Mi Diario De Aqui Hasta Alla
Author: Amada Irma Perez
Illustrator:Maya Christina Gonzalez (Illustrator)

My Diary From Here to There/Mi diario De Aqui Hasta Alla was better than good, it's a great book and I fell in love with it.

The book tells the story of Amada, a young girl living in Juarez, Mexico who has just found out that her family is going to be making a big move to the United States. Her diary chronicles her feelings and fears, her hopes and dreams. She is worried to be leaving to a strange new land and leaving behind all that she loves in Mexico. The author is a third grade teacher and the book is based on her own move as a youngster. There is some mighty fine and poetic writing in this little book.

As Amada writes about the tortilla shop in her Juarez neighborhood, the line "hands blurring like hummingbirds wings" describing the women making tortillas by hand struck me to the core with it's simple beauty. This is poetry. The diary is bilingual and the language in Spanish is just, if not more poetic and lovely.

My Diary From Here to There is a thoughtful and moving account of a family making a big transition. So many of us either remember such a crossing or have family members that have done the same, taking risks to make a new life here. Amada writes of the challenges and of painful separation from her father who has gone ahead to the fields of Delano, California. She writes a brief letter home mentioning a young Cesar Chavez beginning his lifelong fight for the migrant workers.

There are observations in this book that make you stop and think. Take, for example, "two countries looking exactly the same on both sides of the border with giant saguaros pointing up at the pink-orange sky and enormous clouds." Makes you think, no? How different are we really and why is this border even an issue?

The illustrations by Maya Christina Gonzalez are gorgeous. The more I see of her artwork, the more I am struck by it's power and beauty. She has this way of capturing the very essence of the beauty that is the Mexican women - grace, strength, determination, warmth and most of all the love for familia that shines out of their eyes. Each illustration has a mural like quality and with each look, you find more and more to amaze at.

I would encourage anyone to buy this book - adults and children both will be enchanted and moved.

El piñatero/ The Piñata Maker

I love piñatas! They hold a special place in my heart and memories. When I was seven years old, my grandfather brought back from Mexico a beautiful, traditional piñata called piñata de picos. It was gorgeous a shard and I still have mine all these years later.

El piñatero/ The Piñata Maker with tons of brightly colored paper and streaming tassles on each cone. I remember being so excited when it was time to break it. We sang the piñata song, dale dale dale... The best part of all was when one of my cousins broke it and we found it was made of clay. Each of us children kept is a fantastic little photo journal about a piñata maker. There are full color photos of the process of making piñatas. It is the story of Tio Rico, a traditional piñata maker. His pinatas are exquisite, especially the Swan which is elegant and feels almost alive. There are pages dedicated to my favorite, the piñata de picos, my birthday piña. I was thrilled to find this amazing little book dedicated to an almost lost art. No Spongebob piñatas or tacky Ninja or tacky Ninja turtles made of cheap paper and plastic in this book.

It's a treasure and I share it with you on in the hopes of reviving the art so that our children can be as enchanted as I was on my seventh birthday.

Little Night/Nochecita

Little Night

Author/Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

ISBN-10: 1596430885

ISBN-13: 978-1596430884

From the book jacket:

As the long day comes to an end, Mother Sky fills a tub with falling stars and calls, “Bath time for Little Night!”

Little Night answers from afar, “Can’t come. I am hiding and you have to find me, Mama. Find me now!”

I loved this book! I recently received the BLAD (book, layout and design) of both this and the Spanish language version, Nochecita and simply fell in love with Yuyi Morales’ sumptuous illustrations. Each page is a feast for the senses. The art is so rich, so deep, so textured that it is almost tactile. It feels like you could walk right into the page and in doing so, you would be walking into a dream world make of silk and velvet.

The face of Little Night is one of sheer joy. She is imbued with the spirit of childhood and laughter. Even without the fun hide and seek story you’d be completely engaged because the art tells the story on its own. That said the story is fun and adorable. The imagery of Yuyi Morales’ writing is beautiful and poetic.

Mother Sky is beautiful as well. She embodies the spirit of the india in her gorgeous huilpil and braided hair. She makes me think of Mexico, of my grandmother and her comadres, of paintings by Siquieros and Rivera but with a more feminine, almost sensual feel.

Nochecita sounds a little better in Spanish, but overall the translation is seamless and you get the same sense of fun in both versions of the book.

Little Night won’t be published until April but it is available for pre-order in most bookstores. I’m running right out to pre-order it and I highly recommend that anyone do so. Children will love the sense of fun in the book as well as the illustrations and adults will adore the dreamlike sensuousness of the art.

About the Author:

Yuyi Morales is an author, artist, puppet maker, fold dancer and was the host of her own Spanish-language radio program for children. Other books she has written/an or illustrated include Just a Minute, winner of the Pura Belpre Medal, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, a Pura Belpre Honor Book, and Los Gatos Black on Halloween. She has also received the Jane Addams and Christopher Awards for her work. Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Yuyi now makes her home in the San Francisco area.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rick's Flicks Picks

Rick DeMott mentioned before in the Oscar Showcase post has just launched a long awaited and much anticipated film blog!

This is his announcement:

For longer than I can remember I have been promising many of you that I would eventually turn my movie review newsletter into a website. Well, the day has come. With 780 reviews already online, there are still many more archival reviews yet to post, but new stuff is being added all the time. Please check back frequently for new content and an improved look. Sharing the site with all your friends is always welcome. Thanks for all the support. So with no further ado...http://ricksflickspicks.animationblogspot.com/

Please swing by Rick's ("sooner or later everyone comes to Rick's") and show him some love.

Call Me María

Call Me María
Author: Judith Ortiz Cofer
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN-10: 0439385784
ISBN-13: 978-0439385787

Call Me María
is the story of a girl caught between two worlds, the bright beaches of Puerto Rico where she was born and raised and the gritty streets of el barrio in New York where she lives with her father. The story is told in letters, poems and short spare chapters that convey much. The poetry is evocative and compelling. The language is lush. María’s the story of her life is fascinating. You can see the beaches in Puerto Rico, smell the ocean, feel the sun on your face, feel the cold of the New York and the shock to the system. It’s pretty great when writing can make you feel that you’re there, when it’s so real you can almost feel the wind on your skin.

“…I will watch the world go by until
I am ready to surface,
una flor in la primavera.
I know that spring will come someday even to this barrio.
When it does
I will break through the concerete and reach for the sun
Like the first flower of spring.”

Beautiful, que no?

María’s new life in the barrio is filled with meeting new friends, discovering the poetry in herself, overcoming her heavy accent, learning to live with her parents separation. There’s a lot here in this little book. Every page is a pleasure if you love poetry like I do. If you’re not a big fan, well read it anyway and the book will win you over. The different chapters, poems and letters give a lyrical view of everything and everyone involved in the story in a way that is brief but intense. I loved the poem of the Papi Chulo – that was just amazing – I smiled all the way through it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mariana and the Merchild

Mariana and the Merchild: A Folktale from Chile
Author: Caroline Pitcher
Illustrator: Jackie Morris
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN-10: 0802852041
ISBN-13: 978-0802852045

Mariana and the Merchild is the story of a lonely old woman who lives by the sea. Each day she walks along the shore gathering things and longing for a child to cook for. The children of the village are afraid of Mariana and whisper behind her back adding to her sense of isolation. One day after a violent storm, Mariana finds a crab shell in which is hidden a merbaby. She takes the merbaby home and cares for her with all the love in her lonely heart. The merchild’s mother visits Mariana and asks her to care for her child until it is safe for her to take her back to the sea.

The writing is lyrical and the imagery beautiful. I loved the way the author describes the mermaid “Her hair flamed red and her skin shone as if polished by the sun with mother-of-pearl.”

The artwork is beautiful as well. Sweeping watercolors with wonderful earthtones give the true sense of the seashore. I loved the illustration of the waves during the storm and how the artist made them look like hungry wolves. The merchild is beautiful and wispy, a stark contrast to Mariana’s indigenous solidity.

Mariana and the Merchild
is an emotional story of love, loneliness and wish fulfillment. I loved how as the merchild grew, she brought Mariana closer to the village children who would be consolation for Mariana when the time came for the merchild’s mother to come for her. I had expected a sad ending and was very pleasantly surprised at the way it all worked out.

The AWN Oscar Showcase

I wanted to take a moment away from books and let everyone know about the AWN Oscar Showcase. The Oscar Showcase is the labor of love from the staff at AWN.com, a company I used to work for and foolishly left to move to San Diego. The staff get up at the crack of dawn, Sarah trudges down to the Academy to await the announcement of the Oscar nominations for animation, then she calls AWN (who are there at 5am, sometimes 4:30 feverishly working on the techinical stuff) and gives them the list of nominees. They work even more feverishly and get that marvelous toy called the Oscar Showcase up and running on the site. The Oscar Showcase has video clips of each of the nominated features and shorts. There's a tremendous amount of work that goes into doing this, they have to get the clips, images, permissions, links have to work, images need to fit, etc. It's a labor intensive process and it's simply astoundinghow much this small group of people get done.

Check it out here: http://www.awn.com/oscars07/

AWN is the acronym for Animation World Network, an all online trade publication dedicated to serving the animation community and they've been around a long time. They are a tremendous resource for anyone interested in animation, have an eleven year resource of in-depth articles and news, they have an educational focus and, I'm told are used as a teaching tool in many animation schools. They also have an event calendar, a book corner (yeah you thought we were getting completely away from books?), community forums and my favorite thing of all, the AIDB (AIDB.com).

The AIDB is an animation industry database with over 9000 companies (I may be exaggerating but not by much) including schools listed. You can access it for free! It's like the 411 for animation and it's updated constantly. The AIDB is one of the most sophisted databases I know and I LOVE databases. It's an obsession. Dan Sarto, the publisher at AWN loves databases with a passion that surpasses mine and he made sure to include all kinds of neat functionality to the AIDB. Check it out, it rocks.

AWN is run by a small staff of extremely dedicated and hard-working folks that made my time there a joy. I miss them all very much on a day-to-day basis even though I see them every so often. Here's a list of the people that make AWN happen.

Ron Diamond - President and co-founder - Ron is also the President of Acme Filmworks (www.acmefilmworks.com). He's a super nice guy and an award winning producer.

Dan Sarto - Publisher, co-founder, lover of South Park, databases and my famous adobo. He's the guy to go to with questions about anything animation or medical biology. Dan is often invited to speak at animation events like one he did in Hong Kong a couple of years ago. He and his wife Debbie have three daughters, all readers.

Sarah Baisley - Editor in Chief, lover of horoscopes and wine, encyclopedia of all things animation. She's worked for Phil Roman, Hanna Barbera and some other big places I can't remember at 6:00 a.m. She often is invited to sit on panels and talk about animation. She recently was at a Comic Con panel and I had the pleasure of watching everyone in a packed room hang on her every word.

Bill Desowitz - VFXWorld Editor - Did I not mention VFXWorld? Silly me. VFXWorld is AWN's baby. VFXWorld covers visual effects and it is super cool. You want to know how they make dragons fly, armies of goblins, stalking Ents? Head on down to VFXWorld.com and subscribe to their newsletters. You'll find their content married onto the AWN site as well, so it's an easy hop over. Bill has two cute little boys.

Rick DeMott - Managing Editor - Rick is amazing. Rick is a film buff and puts out his own (on his own time) massive film review newsletter. I don't know how he gets the time to view all these movies, much less write about them but he does and it's astounding. Somewhere in there he finds time to post news, manage stuff and run the event calendar among many other things.

Deron Yamada - Art Director - Deron is an amazing graphic artists. He's responsible for making everything look pretty (will probably wince at the word pretty) on AWN. He's from Hawaii and is laid back and cool.

Darlene Chan - Editorial Administrator. Darlene gets all the permissions to use images for articles, she tracks down headshots of animators and others, she spends lots of time on the phone and is very particular about making sure that everything is in order. She has a neat son named Enzo who writes very nice thank you notes and puts cool drawings on them. Enzo is a big reader.

Then there are the new folk that I don't know that well but they're super nice too. There's Andy Strum (contact him to advertise on AWN), Michelle Lim, Greg Singer (who can never eat what I cook because I just can't figure out how to make Mexican food vegan) and Mark Rebec.

Swing by AWN.com and take a stroll. You'll be addicted, I promise. That's it for me, I have to go to work, I'm late!

Monday, January 22, 2007

NBCC Nominees are announced

From Critical Mass, the NBCC's blog, here are this year's nominees:

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing:
Winner: Steven G. Kellman

The finalists: Ron Charles, Donna Rifkind, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Kathryn Harrison

The Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement:
John Leonard

Patrick Cockburn, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq
Anne Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution
Sandy Tolan, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
Dave Eggers, What is the What
Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land
Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Donald Antrim, The Afterlife
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Alexander Masters, Stuart: A Life Backwards
Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
Teri Jentz, Strange Piece of Paradise

Daisy Fried, My Brother is Getting Arrested Again
Troy Jollimore, Tom Thomson in Purgatory
Miltos Sachtouris, Poems (1945-1971)
Frederick Seidel, Ooga-Booga
W.D. Snodrass, Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems

Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within
Frederick Crews, Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon
Lia Purpura, On Looking: Essays
Lawrence Wechsler, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences

Debby Applegate, The Most Famous Man in Amerca: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Taylor Branch, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968
Frederick Brown, Flaubert: A Biography
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
Jason Roberts, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The McElderry Book of Grimm's Fairy Tales

The McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Author: Saviour Pirotta
Illustrator: Emma Chichester Clark
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
ISBN-10: 1416917985
ISBN-13: 978-1416917984

When I first received this book and opened the padded envelope it came in, I was in awe of how beautifully illustrated the cover was. It simply took my breath away. The princess sleeping was so real, yet surreal and dreamy at the same time. I fell in love with the cover. It is in a word, sumptious.

I love fairy tales. My first love affair with books was because of Andrew Lang’s Green Fairy Book. I remember walking into the library, finding that book, then going home and falling so deeply into it that I didn’t hear my mother calling me for a long time. I was transported into the world of fairytales. Needless to say, I got into trouble for not listening. I was lucky enough to repeat that sense of getting lost in another world with this book. I’ve read Grimm’s Fairytales before, all of them and I know them well. We’re old friends. Saviour Pirotta’s retelling though is another story. I loved the changes he made, as in the ending to Snow White where the wicked stepmother’s heart breaks into a thousand pieces as the magic mirror breaks. He truly made them new and fresh. There’s an emotional quality to his writing that I loved, he gets you involved in the same way that Andrew Lang did to me all those years ago.

The McElderry Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales contains ten tales, including one of my favorites, The Swans and the Brave Princess. Each page is beautifully illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark and the cover is only a hint of the gorgeous and lush illustrations to be found in the book. I found her creepy rendition of the forest in Hansel and Gretel to be very dark and scary. Kids are going to love this book as will their parents.

About the Author:

Saviour Pirotta was born in Malta, a small island that used to be the favorite haunt of Mediterranean pirates. His parents, both devout churchgoers named him after Jesus. [Saviour has a brother called Joseph and two aunts called Mary. His father was a carpenter.] With such a name, people expected him to grow up liking Bible stories but, influenced by his granny, he soon developed a liking for pirate and ghost stories, especially the gruesome kind that keep you awake at night. He became fascinated by the pirate lore of the Maltese islands and used to beg people to repeat popular legends over and over again. He has written more than sixty fiction and nonfiction books for children, and his works have been translated into ten languages. He has a special interest in myths and traditional legends from around the world.

About the Illustrator:
Emma Chichester Clark was born in London in 1955 but lived in Ireland until 1975. She studied at the Chelsea School of Art from 1975–8 followed by a course at the Royal College of Art from 1980–83 where she was taught by Quentin Blake.

She has worked as a freelance illustrator for various magazines including New Scientist, Cosmopolitan and The Sunday Times, and has also illustrated numerous book jackets. Her work was exhibited at the Thumb Gallery in 1984 and 1987.

Emma won the Mother Goose Award in 1988 as the most exciting newcomer to children's book illustration.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation
Volume One: The Pox Party
Author: M.T. Anderson
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN-10: 0763624020
ISBN-13: 978-0763624026

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is the story of Octavian, who lives in a house in Boston with the men that make up the College of Lucidity , the Princess of Oyo who is his mother and various servants. Octavian is given a classical education, he and his mother are dressed in elegant and expensive silks and addressed as royalty. It is only after his mother refuses the unwanted advances of one of the College’s investors that Octavian realizes that he is nothing more than a slave in the household. His mother was an African princess that was sold while still pregnant with Octavian to the men of the college who have been conducting research and experiments using them to ascertain if the African race is "a separate and distinct species.”. I know! It’s unbelievable.

The book is written in 18th century literary style with Octavian telling his story. It is an ambitious story to tell. There’s a lot going on here that would normally be off putting, but M.T. Anderson is a grand storyteller and I found myself transfixed by it all.

As Octavian learns the horrors of slavery, that he is not a pampered prince and free as he had always thought, he becomes a man. He makes friends with another slave who takes him under his wing and learns other, more useful things. All the while, the story of Octavian and his astonishing life (and it is quite astonishing) there are under threads of unrest, the beginnings of war and interesting bits and pieces.

Octavian escapes from his prison and after his owners host a pox party, inoculating their guests against smallpox and his mother dies horribly disfigured. He ends up playing the fiddle and joining the patriots army before he is captured and returned to his owners. Octavian is then forced to wear an iron mask before he is set free by one of the men in the household who had been in love with his mother.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is an astounding book of immense ambition and scope. It addresses so many important issues like slavery, war, free will, bigotry and racism. It’s a powerful and important novel and one to be read and re-read. The author has promised a second volume and I can’t wait to read it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Author: Steve Augarde
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN-10: 038575048X
ISBN-13: 978-0385750486

Celandine is the sequel to The Various, a book I haven’t read. If Celandine is an indicator, I’m long overdue to read it because this book was marvelous.

Celandine is a young girl living in England during World War I. Her brother has been killed and she is devastated by the loss. Celandine’s story begins with her running away from her horrible boarding school and heading for the secret hiding place of the Various, tiny creatures that live in the bramble near her home. She turns to them for safety but all is not well with the different tribes, they are nearing a war of their own and have other problems as well.

The book flashes back to what led Celandine to be sent away to boarding school, how she came to know the little people and a bit about her family and the feeling of the time. It’s a rich story and the intersecting of all these stories is sublime. I loved it. Celandine reminds me of stories like The Little Princess or The Secret Garden with elements of fairy and fantasy intertwined. Steve Augarde’s Various aren’t so magical though, rather they are tiny, desperate but kind creatures struggling with hunger and poverty as they’ve been pushed farther and farther back into the bramble as the modern world encroaches.

Celandine is a rich and interesting character as well. As the back story progresses, we get to know her loneliness, her feeling out of place with her wild hair, her Austrian mother, the governess that is hostile towards her. We share her angst, her desperation. One of the most moving parts of the book for me was her realization that by feeding her, the ragged children of the Various were going without. Her determination to help them and not be a drain is admirable and I saw in that written moment, Celandine grew up.

I can’t wait to read The Various after this!

is a great book for that pre-teen girl who is struggling with her own identity crisis. I think readers of all ages will identify with her and more importantly, understand her. It’s a great book and one of those stories that is timeless.

The Pull of the Ocean

The Pull of the Ocean

Author: Jean-Claude Mourlevat,

Translator: Y. Maudet

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

ISBN-10: 0385733488

ISBN-13: 978-0385733489

The Pull of the Ocean is a wild little story based upon the tale The Adventures of Tom Thumb by Charles Perrault and I absolutely adored it.

Yann Doutreleau has six brothers, all tall for their age, but he is no more than two feet tall. Yann is the youngest and mute but also the cleverest and most intelligent of the brothers as well as the undisputed leader. He communicates by gestures and looks and can say more with his eyes than most people can say with their voice. Yann loves school and learning while his brothers do not. The Doutreleau brothers are very protective of Yann and love him very much in spite of his differences or perhaps because of them.

On a dark and stormy night, little Yann, overhears his parents fighting and wakes his three sets of twin brothers telling them that the parents plan to harm them. They leave, led by Yann and start a journey to the ocean. It’s a strange little parade, three sets of malnourished, ragged twin boys and one very tiny doll of a boy leading the way sometimes from the inside of a bag.

Each chapter is narrated by a different person; a school social worker, police, a student, a baker, a writer, each of the brothers and others and each has their own perspective on what they saw, did or heard so the book ends up being 21 points of view.

I found the story completely enchanting from the very first page. It’s a lovely little jigsaw of a fable on the spirit of brotherhood and I highly recommend it. The Pull of the Ocean was the winner of a prestigious award when it was first published in France and I expect it will win its share here. Buy it and read it, you won’t be disappointed.

About the Author:

Jean-Claude Mourlevat is a major author of children's fiction in his native France, where his novels have garnered numerous literary awards. The author lives in France.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Uncomfortable Dead

The Uncomfortable Dead, A Novel by Four Hands: What’s Missing is Missing
Author: Subcomandate Marcos, Paco Taibo III
Publisher: Akashic Books
ISBN-10: 1933354070
ISBN-13: 978-1933354071

I’m a big fan of both Subcomandante Marcos that mysterious Zapatista storyteller that lives in the jungles high in the mountains of Chiapas and Paco Ignacio Taibo, III or PIT 3 as he is affectionately called by his many fans. I fell in love with Marcos’ writing back in 1994 when the first communicados started working their way to La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper that I read almost religiously, although now I find myself reading it on the internet. PIT 3 swept me away with the first Héctor Belascoarán Shayne novel I read, No Happy Ending. The idea of both of these iconic figures writing a book together was just too exciting.

I had read parts of The Uncomfortable Dead in Spanish when it was published in La Jornada in alternating chapters and it drove me crazy waiting for the next week’s installment. It was the talk of our danza circle with everyone printing out the week’s installment on their computers and then passing them around and excitedly jabbering away in Nahuatl, Spanish and English about it. It was more exciting than waiting for our last dance presentation of the night at Zamora Brothers in East L.A. on Virgen de Guadalupe day.

The Uncomfortable Dead is an insanely funny murder mystery. It’s all about good, evil and the crazy politics of Mexico. The book touches on the disappearances of people over the years and of one man named Morales’ involvement in them all. The chapters written by Marcos originate in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, and his investigator, Elias Contreras just happens to be dead, while those written by Taibo are mostly based in Mexico City starring his famous cigarette smoking, coca cola guzzling, one-eyed detective Shayne.

After having had the opportunity to read at Mexico’s Vicente Fox’s oh so casually released report (http://www.commondreams.org/news2006/1121-09.htm) admitting to over 30 years of murder, torture and rape among other atrocities that the government is has been responsible for, well the book really made a bigger impact upon me than I think it would have if I had read it in it’s entirety sooner.

I loved how at times, the characters would discuss their roles in the book and even critiquing it. I found that to be simply hilarious.

Taibo’s Shayne finds more questions than answers as he digs deeper into the search for Morales which started with a late night answering machine from a dead guy. The cast of characters in the book are a comical jumble. There’s a Tijaunero porn star paid to masquerade as Osama Bin Laden in terrorist videos, Pancho Villa, Barney, various ghosts and Gustav Mahler.

I’m not saying anymore because it’s will just seem weirder and weirder. The book is political, funny, wry and insanely entertaining. You’ll just have to read it to find out more.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Ernie Colón
Based on the Final Report of the National Commission of Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
With a foreward by the Chair and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton
Publisher: Hill and Wang (a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 13: 9780809057399
ISBN 10: 0809057395

On December 5, 2005, the 9/11 Commission issued its final report card on the government’s fulfillment of the recommendations issued in July 2004: one A, twelve Bs, nine Cs, twelve Ds, three Fs, and four incompletes.

Que, que! I was stunned to read that! Only one A! Twelve D’s! Three F’s! If it had me at school back in the day, I would have been scared to come home with a report card like that. My mom would have given me a hell of a chanclaso. I literally would have been grounded for life. My grandparents would have cried. This isn’t a teenager’s report card, it’s our government’s report card.

I had meant to read the 9/11 report when it first came out, but was too busy trying to hold my life together at the time. I had lost my job right after 9/11 and had a hell of a time finding a new one, I’d moved because I couldn’t afford my old place anymore, my son was shipped off to the Middle East, my boyfriend was sent to Iraq and my family was just struggling to re-establish our pre-9/11 sense of security. Reading an 600 page report in the middle of it all seemed to make no sense. I retreated into the lovely and enchanted world of children’s literature. This was too deep for me to deal with.

Three years after the report came out, I still hadn’t read it. Life was back to normal (kind of) and I was busier than ever with writing, reviewing, helping out with the grandkids, working and just life in general. The 9/11 Report completely slipped my mind. Then I volunteered to be on a nominating panel for The Cybils (http://dadtalk.typepad.com/cybils/) in the graphic novel category and one of the nominated books was The 9/11 Report, A Graphic Adaptation.

I read this amazing report and was completely astounded by how well the graphic novel format suited it. Sid Jacobson’s text comes directly from the original report in a condensed and intelligent version and frequently follows it word for word. It’s extremely accessible to anyone without “dumbing down” the subject matter.

There are four separate timelines for each of the four flights that brilliantly illustrate what was going on with each. Each page is illustrated beautifully with a moody, dark feel which fits in perfectly. Ernie Colón's stunning artwork is highly detailed and captures the emotions and terror of the day as well as what followed. The book gives background on each of the terrorists as well as the events that led up to that horrible morning.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation captured me with it’s arresting story and art. Each detail was engraved on my mind in a way that no plain text would have done. The comic book format truly created an impact for me in a way that words alone would not have done. I, like many I suppose was put off by what I had perceived to be a dry story. I was wrong. The story of the four planes and of what happened both before and after 9/11 was absolutely riveting and painful to read. It brought back that horror that I felt watching my television that morning and of the dark times that followed. I felt everything all over again and I was reminded in a way that I needed to be reminded. I had become far too complacent and settled.

I think that the graphic novel and comic book mediums are excellent ways to present certain subjects to those who wouldn’t normally read them The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation belongs in every library.

About the Author:
Sid Jacobson was the managing editor and editor in chief for Harvey Comics, where he created several characters, among them Richie Rich, and was executive editor at Marvel Comics. He is the author of two novels.

About the Illustrator:
The artist, Ernie Colón, has worked at Harvey, Marvel, and DC Comics. At DC, he oversaw the production of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Blackhawk, and the Flash; at Marvel, Spider-Man.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Inés of My Soul: A Novel

Inés of My Soul: A Novel
Author: Isabel Allende
Publisher: HarperCollins Rayo
ISBN 13: 978-0061161537

I’m a Chicana. I am a Danzante Azteca, an Aztec Dancer. To me, all conquistadors were monsters. I’ve hated them, Hernan Cortez in particular for as long as I can remember. I knew nothing about the conquistadores of Chile, nor did I care to. I knew all I wanted to about the conquistadores, their brutality, the violence and genocide done to my people 500 years ago. I knew all I wanted to and that was the end of it. Or so I thought.

I took my time about reading Inés of My Soul. I wanted to read it, it sat in my shelf for more than a month but something always stopped me. Then one day as I was getting ready for work, I picked it up and turned the page. That was it for me. Needless to say, I never did make it in to work that day. I stayed in my room and read Inés’ story until I finished the book. Then I read it again.

Isabel Allende has that effect on me. Her books make me think, make me absorb them, take them in until the words almost become part of my DNA. I am always in awe of her writing, always amazed and always, always transfixed and held captive in her world of words. Inés of My Soul did that to me. Not only that, it did something bigger. Huge. Inés of My Soul was an epiphany for me. It made me think of the conquistadores in a radically different way. It made me see their humanity. Los Conquistadores human? That they had beliefs, loves, losses, dreams and hopes. Wow. It had never before entered my mind that they would have feelings. To me, they were just the monsters that came, stole, raped and pillaged. I never once considered that they were human beings. I still think they were wrong and I still believe they were murderers and rapists. The only change was that I know see their humanity.

Inés of My Soul is the story of Doña Inés Suárez (1507– 1580), a poor seamstress in Spain who goes to Peru to track down her cheating husband only to find that he has died in battle and then goes on to become the first lady of Chile. In this grand historical fiction, she is writing her memoirs in the year of her death. She tells of her girlhood in Spain, of her love for the cheating husband Juan de Málaga “one of those handsome, happy men no woman can resist at first, but later wishes another woman would win away because he causes so much pain" and of her decision to stay in Peru. She travels, she fights, becomes a nurse to the wounded, even fights in battle against various indigenous tribes. There are bloody and vicious battles, romance, cruelty, trials and tribulations.

Inés then falls in love with Pedro de Valdivia and travels with him to Chile where they set about conquering the land and making a home there. She tells her stepdaughter from her second marriage, "I beg you to have a little patience, Isabel. You will soon see that this disorderly narrative will come to the moment when my path crosses that of Pedro de Valdivia and the epic I want to tell you about begins. Before that, I had been an insignificant seamstress in Plasencia, like the hundreds and hundreds of hardworking women who came here before and will come after me. With Pedro de Valdivia I lived a life of legend, and with him I conquered a kingdom. Although I adored Rodrigo de Quiroga, your father, and lived with him thirty years, the only real reason for telling my story is the conquest of Chile, which I shared with Pedro de Valdivia."

It’s an amazing story and a book I find myself picking up again and again. I found myself really liking Inés even when I was horrified at her brutality.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Day It Snowed Tortillas

The Day It Snowed Tortillas / El Dia Que Nevaron Tortillas, Folktales told in Spanish and English
Author: Joe Hayes
Illustrator: Antonio Castro Lopez
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN-10: 0938317768
ISBN-13: 978-0938317760

The Day It Snowed Tortillas
is a fantastic little collection of stories re-told by Joe Hayes. In the title story, a clever woman saves her husband from a bunch of bandits by making him believe that it snowed tortillas during the night. There are fun stories, scary ones and magical ones. I loved them all, but my favorite story was the one called Little Gold Star. Little Gold Star is a kind of Cinderella story about a kind little girl named Arcia and has two nasty, ill-behaved stepsisters. Arcia is follows the instructions of a hawk and gets a gold star on her forehead as a reward. Her sisters, being the rude girls that they are get a donkey ear and a green horn on their foreheads. The story made me laugh and laugh. Imagine being called oreja de burro! Too funny.

There’s a story of La Llorona in the book too. I love stories about La Llorona or the Weeping Woman and love to see other versions of the story.

Each story in the collection are adaptations of folktales from the New Mexico region. Joe Hayes puts his own unique spin on them and gives them a refreshing new feel. The Day It Snowed Tortillas is a unique and fun must have for any library.

About the Author:
Joe Hayes is one of America's premier storytellers. He is especially recognized for his bilingual telling of stories from the Hispanic culture of northern New Mexico. Joe lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and travels extensively throughout the United States, visiting schools and storytelling festivals.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Help Tia Chuchas! Support Community based literature and culture

Tia Chucha's must move--but our Spirit, Creativity, and Unity are intact.

Just after the holidays, Tia Chucha's Cafe & Cultural Center was served with a notice forcing us to move. We have to leave by February 28, 2007. A powerfully energized and thriving bookstore/cafe/performance space/cultural center is to be replaced by high-tech laundry machines. The laundry company is apparently investing $8 million in the strip mall, something we can't compete with.

Maintain a vibrant community space? Of course not! Instead, make way for another laundry outlet! That's capitalism. Money follows money, not needs, not literacy, not community, or cultural expression. In the world we've inherited, most creativity and expression has to make big money, or it's out.

We created a space that requires a lot of personal and community investment. The community came to embrace Tia Chucha's and make this space its own. We plan to take the spirit, creativity, and unity we helped nurture to a temporary site as we plan and prepare to obtain a larger permanent site in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

This is a time to come together, strategize, and work to keep Tia Chucha's viable as a cultural center while we explore our options. We will not give up. We will find a temporary space; we will also curtail our retail operations while we concentrate on our programming, events, outreach, fundraising, and growth.

We ask that you strengthen our efforts and sign this petition in support of Tia Chucha's coming back stronger, bigger, and better endowed than ever. We need this written support to show the various developers; city, county, and state agencies; and foundations that this community will fight for the arts, music, dance, theater, writing, film, publishing, and a vital gathering place where we can share ideas, history, politics, economics, and our indigenous traditions and thinking.

Our strategy this year includes implementing a fundraising plan with a 5th Anniversary event at Tia Chucha's on February 17 . We will also have another "Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung" festival at Sylmar Park on May 19 . And we have been approved to do a benefit event for Tia Chucha's at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood on July 29.

Sign up for our e-mail newsletter here on our website up at the top, or call 818-362-7060 for more information.

--Luis J. Rodriguez Co-founder and Creative Director, Tia Chucha's Cafe & Centro Cultural

How You Can Help!!! *Come into the cafe and sign the petition!!!
*Attend a community meeting held at Pacoima Beautiful located at 11243 Glenoaks Blvd., Suite 1 Pacoima, CA 91331 on Wednesday, January 17@ 12 noon. Voice your opinion and let the city of Pacoima know that you support Tia Chucha's and request that they consider us as a prospective bussiness for the new shopping center being built on Paxton St. on the old Price Pfister Factory site.
*Volunteer!!! We will need assistance at our Anniversary Celebration and with the transition to our new temporary space. Interested volunteers can email Tia Chucha's at chuchamail@aol.com or call (818)362-7060 and ask how you can help!!!
*Donate and re-invest in your community!!! Donations like yours will assist Tia Chucha's in it's struggle and continued survival!!!

Silverio Pelayo
Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural
email: http://us.f342.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=info@tiachucha.com
phone: (818)362-7060
web: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=5j5qp8bab.0.7ppqqwbab.nhnyxvbab.985&ts=S0216&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.tiachucha.com


Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Publisher: Atheneum
ISBN-10: 0689861753
ISBN-13: 978-0689861758

Bound is the most wonderful Cinderella story I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s based on a classic Chinese tale and it is simply beautiful.

Xing Xing, also called Lazy One by her stepmother is lonely and mistreated after the death of her father. She often goes down to the pool near her family’s cave and communes with a beautiful white carp that she comes to believe holds the spirit of her dead mother. She dreams of poetry and practices her calligraphy whenever she can. Her stepsister Wei Ping lies in pain all day long due to her badly bound feet, so Xing Xing has to do all the work. When her stepmother sends her on a mission to sell medicine to a traveling doctor, Xing Xing’s adventures begin and she begins to find her own strength and value as a person.

Once she returns to her village, Xing Xing finds life even harder. Her stepmother kills the beautiful white carp and Xing Xing is devastated. She digs in the garbage heap to find the bones of the fish she believes was her mother reincarnated and then digs deep into the cave to hide the bones. In doing so, she finds a beautiful gown and other things her mother left there for her. Xing Xing wears the gown to a village festival and attracts the eye of a handsome prince.

Donna Jo Napoli writes such a strong and moving story. The characters are wonderfully complex and interesting. It’s an incredible survival story and one of great depth. While Bound is set in ancient China, the story is very much a 21st century story with a strong female heroine who stays true to herself in the face of incredible adversity.
About the Author:
Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels - both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Association Pick of the List, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a BCCB Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her other novels have been slected as ALA Best Books. She is the head of the linguistics department at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and their children.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second
ISBN: 1596431520

Graphic Novelist Gene Yang’s masterful blending of the three stories in this book was intelligent and emotional. There’s the legend of the Monkey King who wants to be revered as a god be worshipped above all others, a Caucasian teenaged boy named Danny who is ashamed of his Chinese cousin who seems to be one big jumbled up mess of painful stereotypes, and the story of Jin, a lonely Chinese-American boy who sits alone at lunch and feels left out and misunderstood. Each story is so skillfully woven into the others and it is completely compelling and absorbing.

Each story in American Born Chinese is filled with humor, life, wit and pathos. It’s very affecting. Jin’s struggles with alienation, race and identity are struggles that everyone goes through, in particular children of other cultures. We all feel the need to fit in and each of us has given up some small bit in order to do so. I think that’s what makes this book so fascinating. It tells the story of a young boy struggling with trying to fit in, fighting who he really is while trying to find out who he really is and ultimately finding self-acceptance.

I loved that the classic Chinese tale of the Monkey King is one of the stories that is woven into the others. It ties legend and myth to real life and it really worked with the other more contemporary plotlines.

The artwork is beautiful as well. Each illustration shows depth, color and emotion. The colors are warm and add dimension to the story.

About the Author:
Gene Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 1997, he received the Xeric Grant, a prestigious comics industry grant, for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work as an adult. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan’s Kingdom (with art by Derek Kirk Kim) and The Rosary Comic Book.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and son.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Adèle & Simon

Adèle & Simon
Author/Illustrator: Barbara McClintock
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
ISBN 10: 0374380440

Adèle & Simon is such a beautiful book. It’s one of those books that make you ooh and ah over the pages. The story and the illustrations are equally compelling.

Adèle cautions her brother Simon not to lose anything on the way home from school and he immediately begins to lose things. The book is a walking trip through early 20th century Paris.

Adèle & Simon are walking through Paris, the City of Lights and there are such wonderful distractions and things to see that Simon can’t help but lose his things. They take a walk through the Louvre and Degas and Simon loses his crayons. They find acrobats performing in the streets; there is a parade, oh so many wonderful things! It’s a dream of Paris, the Paris of Gigi, of Madeline. The impressionists are alive and well, Paris is in its glory and Adèle & Simon get to walk through it all. I wanted to crawl right into the book and live in it.

The double page illustrations of the city are wondrous and bring to mind the illustrations of Ludwig Bemelmen’s. The pen and ink drawings filled with watercolors are simply exquisite.

One of the things I loved best was the end notes that talk about the locations on each illustration like on pages 18-19, the illustration is of the Jardin du Luxemborg and Ms. McClintock provides a little history and documentation of the gardens. Very educational!

Awards & Honors:
Amazon.com Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Children

Child Magazine Best Books of the Year

Children's Books: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, New York Public Library

New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Books of the Year

Parenting Magazine, Best Children’s Award

About the Author:

Barbara McClintock has written and illustrated several books for young readers, including Dahlia and Molly and the Magic Wishbone. She is also the illustrator of many more, including Jim Ayleworth’s retellings of The Tale of Tricky Fox and The Gingerbread Man. She lives in Windham, Connecticut.

Pirate Treasure Map

Pirate Treasure Map: A Fairytale Adventure
Author: Colin Hawkins
Illustrator: Jaqui Hawkins
ISBN 13: 978-0763632052
Publisher: Candlewick Press

This book is FUN! Jack Hubbard, son of the Mother Hubbard of nursery rhyme fame along with his dog Patch hops aboard the ship Goosey Gander with his uncle Cap‘n Horatio Hubbard to help him find a lost treasure in a far away land. The book is filled with references to nursery rhyme characters and places. Jack runs into the Owl and the Pussycat, the Crooked Man, Hansel and Gretel and many others on his quest to find the treasure. There’s also a lovely treasure map tucked neatly into Cap’n Hubbard’s hat that a child can pull out and follow along with all the places that Jack visits. I love how the nursery rhymes and fairytale places got woven into the story.

The illustrations are fun too. The colors are bright and exciting, the faces are comical and fun. The whole book just makes me smile. It’s fun, fun, fun and little boys and girls are going to love it. My grandkids just laugh and laugh every time I read it. It’s fast become a family favorite with us. It reminds me of those old after school fractured fairytales.

About the AuthorColin and Jacqui Hawkins, creators of FAIRYTALE NEWS, are one of the most prolific and successful author-illustrator partnerships in the world of children's books. They live in Cork, Ireland.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Chicken With Plums

Chicken With Plums
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN 10: 0375424156
ISBN-13: 978-0375424151

Chicken with Plums is the poignant and evocative story of Nasser Ali Khan, a renowned musician who gave up his life for music and love.

The best selling author of Persopolis turns her considerable storytelling power and talent to telling the story of her great uncle, a famous Iranian musician. When his wife breaks his tar, Nasser Ali Khan tries to replace it but nothing has the same sound. He takes to his bed heartbroken and prepares to die. He lies in bed eight days and during each of these days he is visited by friends and beset by memories of the past.

These vignettes of his eight days in bed are lushly and emotionally told with concise, heartfelt writing and astoundingly simple yet rich illustrations. Nasser Ali Khan is conflicted, moody and romantic. The misunderstandings and trials of the family are It’s absolutely powerful and moving. As we follow Khan’s memories, we slowly learn the truth of his life and of love lost.

The story takes place in the Iran of the 1950’s with flashes of the family here in this time. There is humor, candor, pain and conflict. One of the most moving pieces in the book to me was the part where Khan is sure his favored and spoiled daughter is praying for him when in fact, the only one praying for him is his son that he thinks little of. I also loved the illustrations of Khan’s fantasies about Sophia Loren.

I loved it! It was like a Greek tragedy with a twist.