Thursday, December 22, 2011

Musings of a Grad Student: Semester Three Complete

Classes are over and winter break is here! To recap, this semester I took Organizational Management, Literacy and Learning, and Beginning Cataloging and Classification. To read descriptions of these classes see my previous Musings post.

Literacy and Learning was my most interesting course. Our readings examined theories of learning while class discussions examined pedagogy in practice or, how exactly to implement those theories in the real world, as well as current trends and standards in library practice. One week, groups presented on the state of instruction in different types of libraries: special libraries, university libraries (including archives), school libraries and public libraries. My partner and I researched instruction in public libraries. We briefly covered youth services instruction then discussed adult instruction available in Iowa public libraries. This was my favorite assignment as it allowed me to research the type of institution I am most interested in while getting a feel from the other groups' presentations for what is happening in other libraries, too.

The management course looked at potential real world scenarios librarians encounter as managers. I appreciated the chance to read real grant proposals as well as writing our own theoretical grant proposal since this is something librarians do in order to get funding for special events/projects.

Looks like her cataloging book did kill her. 
The cataloging class covered technical jargon which librarians use like MARC, AACR2, RDA, DC, etc. Most of our time was spent learning to catalog according to the guidelines of AACR2 and applying MARC tags. The cataloging book tried to kill me by putting me to sleep then falling on my face (it's a brick of a book). But I'll have to say the information was worth the risk of reading and the instructor made the class fun. While studying for the final I was laughing at jokes in his power points. If you're going to study the Dewey Decimal classification system you might as well crack a few jokes, right?

The library children's department where I work is keeping busy. Our librarians our gearing up for a children's literature festival January 13-15. The festival is put on by the UNESCO City of Literature and the Pearson Foundation. Our library will be playing an active role. Kathryn Erskine, author of Mockingbird, will be there and there will be activities and movies so if you're in the Iowa City area bring your kids! Learn more about the festival here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Today's review is from my mom! Enjoy!

With a cute cover and holiday-themed title, Skipping Christmas had all the right stuff to entice me to read it.  Having an obvious Scrooge-like sentiment as its title, I wanted to know what would make someone have that mentality, and how they could pull it off in a modern world.

Luther Krank, the tax accountant protagonist, decides he will not participate in Christmas, and he means all of it – the money spent being his number one complaint.  Living in a large city where he is constantly, aggressively bombarded with pleas for his charity and goodwill, he decides to forgo Christmas and take his wife on a luxury cruise instead.  What follows is a “shock and awe” reaction from his friends, coworkers and neighbors. No Frosty the Snowman on his roof?  No annual Christmas dinner for 50 of his closest friends?  No tree, calendar, fruitcake purchased for the Boy Scouts, Policemen's Charity, Fireman's toy drive? Scandalous!  Ridiculous!  Unheard of!

Although not everyone will experience the Krank's stress during the Holidays, everyone has experienced some form of these stressors: traffic congestion, sickness, absent children, needy people, greedy people, bad weather, etc.  I could understand why Luther decided to escape to a tropical climate and indulge in a little “me time.”  But his carefully calculated scheme unravels and is rewoven into a celebration of a different sort, one with an unusual twist, wrapped in kindness and generosity. 

Snow or no snow, presents or no presents, in sickness and in health, Christmas will come and go, and this story emphasizes that it's how we behave and live out our values that matter much more than whether everything looked, smelled and tasted picture-perfect.  After all, that only happens in our dreams! 

Publisher: Doubleday, 2002     Pages: 177     Source: purchased copy

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: The Death Cure by James Dashner

The Maze Runner trilogy comes to a dramatic conclusion in The Death Cure. Thomas and the Gladers escaped the Maze (book 1) only to be thrown into the zombie infested Scorch (book 2) as part of a desperate experiment to save mankind from the Flare -- the zombie disease. Now, as all the variables have been tested for, Thomas realizes his role in the testing runs deeper than he knew.

The setting of each book is distinct, creating unique environments which the characters must survive in. The Death Cure's is an urban setting in the dead of winter. The last surviving towns are walled off to ensure the Flare is quarantined but civilization is crumbling as more and more people succumb to the disease.

Thomas realizes that fleeing is not an option as the city of Denver goes mad with disease and desperation. Instead, he confronts WICKED, the organization responsible for the tests, in order to get the answers he needs  about his past so he can decide what to do with his future.

Confronting WICKED results in a lot of fighting and near death escapes much like the first two books. Yet, I felt like The Death Cure dragged on a bit. Unlike the first two, this book did not keep my attention. I wasn't hanging on at the end of each chapter. The answers to some of the long-standing questions throughout the series were a little flat. I expected something slightly more clever or more grey. And the grand conclusion was a tad too easy and felt unusual for Thomas' character.

Fans of the series won't want to miss The Death Cure because if you're like me you'll have to know the ending to the story. Many characters from the first two books resurface to play interesting roles. This series isn't for the faint of heart. There's gore, death and destruction. Don't get too attached to a character because you never know when someone will turn zombie or turn coat. Despite the slight let down in book three, I have really enjoyed this young adult series and recommend it to dystopia fans.

Publisher: Delacorte, 2011     Pages: 336
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen

A while back I was perusing the children’s new shelf at my library and looking for slim books that might catch my eye. With its catchy title and fun cover, Liar, Liar looked promising. I read the blurb and it sounded amusing. So, I was shocked, just shocked, when I saw who the author was – Gary Paulsen. Gary Paulsen? He does humor? Ok, so, my only other experience with Gary Paulsen was the Newbery Honor book Hatchet which I found a tad dull and boring (how a survival tale can be dull and boring is beyond me). And while some say that Hatchet was a favorite when they were young I simply don’t see it…

Anyways, so I was amazed by how much I liked Liar, Liar. I mean, I read it straight through (which, despite its being a short book is still a big deal for me). And I laughed frequently and uproariously.

It’s about this eighth grader, Kevin, who attempts to get in good with a crush by telling a massive amount of lies. Of course, the lies come back to bite him in the butt. Kevin’s first person point of view, with his rationales for lying, are hilarious, and while obviously these rationales are flawed on many levels they are oddly a little truth revealing, too. I enjoyed the sibling rivalry between Kevin and his older brother and sister and Kevin’s devious ways of getting back at them. It sounded real to me. Really scary and really funny and true.

For fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books who have grown a bit and are ready for something new (without pictures and daily entries) Liar, Liar is a good choice. There’s a sequel, Flat Broke, and I’m definitely going to read it! Gary Paulsen – who knew? I'm still stunned.

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2011     Pages: 120
Full Title: Liar, liar : the theory, practice, and destructive properties of deception
Rating: 4.5 Stars     Source: Public Library     

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

To Ban, or Not to Ban: The Motivations of Censorship

The drive to ban a book is driven by one or two motives: book challengers wish to protect or control. There is a fine line between protecting and controlling.

Person A, when he's upset and deeply disturbed by a book, wants to protect others from having a similar negative experience by suggesting a book ban. Yet the trouble, of course, is that what bothers someone deeply may be treasured and loved by another. If we let whoever gets offended dictate book bans there will simply be no library. There are books I like with religious connotations, like A Wrinkle in Time, which I know some people have challenged because religious messages bother them. So, when I come across a book that really puts me off I try to remember that the freedom to read A Wrinkle in Time is only guaranteed because others are allowed to read what they want as well and that includes books I find repulsive, false or potentially dangerous.

Person B is driven to challenge a book because he fears ideas in the book will cause others to move outside of his control. Person B often thinks he is protecting the others but really it boils down to control. First, ask yourself, can I really control [people's religious beliefs, my child's sexuality, if my neighbor will grow up to be an ax murderer, etc.]? There is next to nothing we can control so the answer, if we're being honest, is likely a no. Secondly, ask, will banning a book containing religious beliefs, sexuality or violence make these issues go away? I think not. These issues are not in our society because someone wrote a book about them; rather, they are issues our society grapples with so authors are writing about them. 

That being said, I do not want to underplay the power of books. I would not have majored in English or gone to school to be a librarian if I believed books do not have the power to change people. Words are not "just words." Words have meaning, they convey ideas and ideas can be persuasive. But we have minds with the power of discernment, too, and if we want others to respect our minds, our rights to our ideas and beliefs and our rights about what we read, then we must, must, must respect others' rights to the same. Down with mind control!

After much thought, I feel these rights ought to be extended to minors as well. I understand the motivation to protect and minors do need protection but do not forget to respect children and teenagers. Respect their right as growing people to make choices about what is wrong and right. Respect their intellectual pursuit, through reading, of figuring out what they believe about the world. Discuss the issues they are reading about -- don't attempt to ban the issues by banning the book because, well, you can't. The issues are here to stay. If we want kids to be strong thinkers, and not just sponges soaking up every idea they come across, then we must allow them to flap their wings, intellectually with reading, when they are ready and be there to support them if they are unsure of the ideas they encounter in the atmosphere in which we live.

Reading is an intellectual pursuit whether it's a romance novel or a graduate student's dissertation that one reads. Reading is a quiet conversation with oneself of which the text is a catalyst. Reading prompts thinking, thinking prompts creativity and creativity solves problems. Encourage reading and support Intellectual Freedom!

Banned Books Week is celebrated Sept. 24-Oct. 1st, 2001. To find out more, visit ALA's website.

Musings of a Grad Student: Officially a Second Year Student

I am now in my third semester on my way to becoming a librarian. Here's a list of classes I'm taking:

  • Organizational Management: Survey of management issues common to all information environments--understanding organizations, decision making, hiring and personnel, grant writing, and marketing.
  •  Beginning Cataloging and Classification: Systems for describing materials and information in catalogs and organizing them for effective retrieval in libraries, museums, and other information centers; AACR2 descriptive principles, Dewey and Library of Congress classifications, Sears and LC subject headings, cataloging networks and services. 
  • Literacy and Learning: Learning and literacy theory relevant to work in information services; how librarians can help people process information and use it to form understanding and create new knowledge.
             Course descriptions taken from my school's website.

I agonized over what courses to take this semester as there were so many good ones offered. Organizational Management is a required course and so far I think very worthwhile. I feel like much of what I learned in Research Methods last semester is beginning to make more sense as we actually write proposals and create surveys. 

A part of me really wanted to take "Resources for Children" and a topics course on archives/preservation but I knew I wanted to take Literacy and Learning. It was recommended by a recently graduated student and I am enjoying the course. The readings are very theoretical but about important educational issues like convergence culture the nature of research strategies and assignments. Class discussion is very interesting and makes me think about what role public libraries play in supporting literacy and learning.

The cataloging class was a last minute decision and while reading rules from AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition) is not the most exciting thing, I do feel I'm learning very useful information that will help me as a librarian some day even if I do not actually do the cataloging. Main entries, the chief source of information, subject headings -- all good things to know about when working in a library.

In addition to classes, I am still working at my public library as the Children's Department intern. I'm hosting Wii Gaming once a week and, about once a month or so, do a storytime. There are lots of little projects to keep me busy otherwise and I'm enjoying working with veteran children's librarians. I even got to order some books for our paperback collection! That was fun! 

Are/were you a LIS student? What are the most valuable courses you took? Thinking about being a librarian? Feel free to ask questions!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Books I Want to Reread

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is "books I want to reread." See what others want to reread at The Broke and the Bookish!

1.  Anne of Green Gables - It's been years since I read the book. I recently watched the movies again but I've been wanting to reread this book for awhile! I still have the mass marketed copy I pilfered from my sister's bookcase years ago. And now I have a hardback Reader's Digest copy so maybe I should return my sister's book. Although, I doubt she's missed it too much in the past 15 years since she's never mentioned it.

2.  East of Eden - I credit this book for turning me into a literature lover...and reader for that matter. I like randomly opening it and reading bits. Definitely read the book before watching the James Dean movie. The film is ok but hardly scratches the surface of the book's complexity.

3.  To Kill a Mockingbird - Also a book I enjoy randomly sampling. I was lucky enough not to have been assigned this book. I was able to read it for fun and from what I hear that can make a big difference with this title.

4.  Pride and Prejudice - I read it before I saw the movie and am glad I did - nothing spoiled before hand. I count this book among my favorites but I've only read it once.

5.  Pygmalion - the play that My Fair Lady was based on. The play is like the movie minus the singing. "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!"

6.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian - funny and poignant. Worth a reread for sure.

7.  Jane Eyre - love it! Saw the movie first so I knew more-or-less what expect, but I still loved the book.

8.  There Eyes Were Watching God - complex but accessible, beautiful and down to earth. I read it for a class but it became a favorite. There is a movie but I thought Halle Berry did not deliver.

9.  Stargirl - A little book with a big punch. Lovely YA.

10.  Little House on the Prairie - it's been eons since I've read it and really don't remember it well. The T.V. show interferes with my memories of the story.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: Lirael by Garth Nix, Read by Tim Curry

“When a dangerous necromancer threatens to unleash a long-buried evil, Lirael and Prince Sameth are drawn into a battle to save the Old Kingdom and reveal their true destinies.Lirael, the second book in The Abhorsen Chronicles/The Old Kingdom series, begins deep within the mountains of the Calyr (those with the “sight,” who see the future). Lirael is parentless and sightless, an oddity in the Clayr household. She is young, too, only 14 and wants nothing more than to gain the sight.  To take her mind of her shortcomings Lirael takes a position as an 3rd Assistant Librarian in the Clayr’s massive library.

The commentary on librarians and librarianship is hilarious if somewhat disconcerting to a future librarian. Lirael chooses the profession because she knows she can hide there and avoid people – a perfect job for an odd, quiet girl! Hmm. On the flip side, Lirael looks forward to the adventures she will have in the library when alone there: long forgotten corridors, chained books with protective spells, interesting ancient trinkets and dangerous creatures! Of course, Lirael opens one too many doors and the story really begins.

Lirael’s companion, the Disreputable Dog, is now one of my all time favorite characters. Smart and sassy this K-9 offers comic relief while proffering mysterious insights for Lirael to digest. “Does the walker choose the path or the path choose the walker?”  A dynamic character, the Disreputable Dog is begging for a walk one minute and guiding a dangerous mission the next. “Dog, I want a straight answer. Who or what are you?” asks Lirael. And dog the replies, “I’m the Disreputable Dog! And your friend.” *Watering eyes*

Garth Nix is a great writer. The content is great. He builds a unique but believable world and sets interesting characters in it. He is a great storyteller but also a good writer in a technical and artistic sense, too. He never complicates passages. I’m never stumbling over sentence structure. The diction is good which shows in the dialog and descriptive passages which made my skin tingle as much as they made me laugh. I feel transported in these stories.

I listened to the audiobook (samples) which is read by Tim Curry who did an outstanding job. I was leery at the idea of listening for 15 hours but, wow, it was worth it. I was sad when the end came. I looked forward to listening to Curry’s dynamic voice every day. So much so, in fact, that I drove to the neighboring town and got a library card there so I could check out the third book, Abhorsen, with Curry reading again. (Oddly, my library only owns Lirael in audio format.) Curry booms, leers, whispers, lingers, rushes and pauses in all the right moments making the listening experience theatrical. It’s not over done but done just right. 

Two tiny issues:

1) Notwithstanding Tim Curry’s awesome voice acting, the first two disks of the story had me worried that Lirael was going to be a dud. Lirael spends a great deal of time moping in the beginning. It’s not that she hasn’t cause to mope but I did want to reach into the story and slap her face, tell her to stop obsessing about herself, to stop waiting for things to happen to her and make something happen! Of course, this is exactly what occurs as Lirael grows up (minus the slapping). And when Lirael began her struggle to find her place in the world I began to like her very much.

2) Lirael is not a standalone novel. It’s not that the reader misses too much info from Sabriel to understand what’s going on in Lirael but the ending is very unresolved. Personally, this did not bother me at all since I am enjoying the story. As I am writing this I have already begun the third book (good so far!) and feel as though Lirael and Abhorsen are the same book, really, just cut in half.

If you are a fantasy fan I highly recommend this series. I fully expect I’ll be purchasing these books in some format. Definitely re-reads. Read my reivew of the first book, Sabriel, here.

Publisher: Listening Library, 2002     Duration: 14 hours, 44 mins on 13 CDs
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top 10 Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

Here is my very first Top 10 meme! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Check it out!

Top 10 Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

The Great Gatsby – there’s something about a Daisy and a Gatsby and I know not what else. I have this notion that the story is depressing and so I haven’t bothered with it but I do feel out of the loop for not having read it.

Catch 22 – same sentiments as above.

Fahrenheit 451 – the classic dytopian novel about censorship. Sounds good but I just can’t bring myself to crack the cover. Speaking of which, the cover sucks.

Eat, Pray, Love – Everyone was talking about it and now no one is. I did see the movie and liked it but not enough to read to the book.

Vampire Academy – this one is waiting on my shelf until I’m done with school and my brain is fried and I will neither notice nor care about cheesiness as I suspect this book may be susceptible to though I could be wrong.

The Devil in the White City – murder at the Chicago’s world fair. It sounds awesome. I saw Larson speak and he was awesome. I tried the book but it moves painstakingly slow. There's TMI about every little detail.
Hamlet – there’s a ghost. That’s all I know. It mocks me every time I walk past my bookcase. I will never be good at Jeopardy until I’ve read this play.

Things Fall Apart – what is this book? I don’t know but I can’t escape references to it.

Outlander – the great Scottish historical romance. I picked up a discarded and falling apart copy from the library. It looks good.

The Lovely Bones – This isn’t something I’d normally choose but I’ve heard such good things. This also waits on my shelf.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

This book will make you hungry. I'm not kidding. I had to fight the urge to order chinese takeout more than once. Pon uses culinary dishes to great effect, creating a distinctly east Asian fantasy novel. I swear I could smell the food while reading.

From the back cover: "Ai Ling can see into other people's minds and reach into their spirits. But she doesn't know why this power has awakened inside her. She only knows that it is growing. It leads her on an epic journey -- one that brings her to to edge of the deepest evil."

Mythology plays a significant part in this story as Ai Ling and her traveling companions, two brothers, encounter strange beasts, spirits, immortals and other worlds that seem to co-exist with our own. Some of these mythical scenes went by too fast for me. The text felt too rushed to continue the storyline and so some sections felt like they were not fully realized. Many traditional fantasy novels are heavy on world exploration, developing the setting. Many, what I consider "light" fantasy novels are heavy on character development/relationship building and the setting gets much less attention (Graceling comes to mind). I found Silver Phoenix to be somewhere in the middle but perhaps leaning towards heavier character development.

The text lingers on the relationship between Ai Ling and her traveling companions. A romance crops up between Ai Ling and Chen Yong. With Ai Ling's special ability she spends time analyzing, not unlike regular teen girls, what others are thinking. While there is action in this novel and plenty of other-worldliness, I think young readers who enjoy watching the development of relationships will be as drawn to this story as much or more than traditional fantasy readers. This text counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Greenwillow, 2011 (hardcover in 2009)     Pages: 338
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Received from the author for participating in the POC Reading Challenge. Thanks, Cindy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"The Other Side of the Hedge" by E.M. Forster: A Short Story Saturday Post

It's time for Short Story Saturday! Today's story, "The Other Side of the Hedge" by E.M. Forster, can be read for free here in about 10 minutes or less. I hope you'll read it and share your thoughts with me!

Forster's short story is striking commentary on the drive towards a preconceived notion of success. It also makes me think of times in life when things were in limbo like after highschool when I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. The protagonist is shocked when the the other side of the hedge leads nowhere: "But it must lead somewhere!" Sometimes there is such pressure (as often self-imposed as not) to proove we are progressing on a prescribed track that it leaves little room for exploration. The man is so consumed with making progress, so focussed on tracking his steps, that he can't see he's been going around in circles and not truly advancing. He's also abandoned relationships with those he viewed as competition.

Though not my favorite short story nor favorite Forster text, "The Other Side of the Hedge" can get you thinking critically about what you're doing and why you're doing it. And if a text as short as this can accomplish that then it gets a thumbs up from me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: The Adventures of Old Bo Bear by Alice Schertle

When I was a kid it wasn't unusual for me to pack some snacks, my binoculars and teddy bear and head out into the great unknown of my backyard. It seemed the whole world existed there. I could go anywhere and be anybody. Alice Schertle's book captures imaginative play in all its glory as well as the bond between child and toy. When kids play with toys they aren't just playing, they're practicing. Imaginitive play with toys offers a safe way for kids to experience new things, fun things and maybe even scary things.

Old Bo Bear loses his ear in the washing machine but he's just as ready for action as he ever was. In fact, the lost ear sparks a series of imaginitive play that is sure to resonate with preschoolers and amuse adults. The story is told in verse which creates read-a-loud appeal. The pictures are bright and attractive letting the reader see both the real world and inside the little boy's imagination. Teddy and I no longer romp in the backyard but I enjoyed reminiscing while reading about Old Bo Bear.

Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2006     Pages: 32     Illustrator: David Parkins
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: But I Don't Wanna Take a Bath! by Mildred Pope

Mike's been playing with his friend, Bud, and dog, Tyke, outside in the mud but as the sun goes down his mom calls him in to take a bath. Mike parades in various costumes, including Sponge Bob and Barney, to evade a sudsy scrub down. The story is set in verse and and the rhymes make this story a good read-a-loud option, something to read with your kids. I noted three pictures are repeated several times; yet, the pictures are bright and cute. The text is fairly small, centered on a blank colored page. In a few places, the text is "fancy" looking and I immediately thought of how young readers find small/ fancy text difficult to read. And text alone on a blank page is often intimidating and discouraging for young readers. While these presentation issues exist the rhyming patterns are fun and many little mess-makers will easily relate to Mike's aversion to bath time. To see pictures from the book check out Pope's website. This text counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: AuthorHouse, 2011     Pages: 36
Rating: 2.5 Stars     Source: Received for free for review. Thanks!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: Latasha and the Little Red Tornado by Michael Scotto

When I opened the package that Latasha came in I was surprised. The cover was so cute, the colors vibrant! This is a good sign, I thought. When I accept a book for review by an unknown author and press it creates a bit of suspense and anxiety. I never know what to expect.

I began reading. Eight year old Latasha has a crazy dog and she believes that if she can train her dog it will prove she's mature and grown up. Her mom gets a great new job as a nurse's assistant but it means Latasha has less time to spend training her dog and she must be babysat by a strange old neighbor lady, Mrs. Okocho -- the horror! I wavered in the first short chapter. I don't about this. Is this going to be a cliche ridden story?

As the story began to flow I was sucked into Latasha's world. Her cares and concerns were so real. The text made me remember both the easy delights and frustrations of being eight. Latasha is an endearing character who learns about the weight of responsibility and how to make and keep friends. I appreciated that the neighbor lady was a well-rounded character who was not just a "prop" but a real character with depth. Ella, the dog, offered comic relief as she tested Latasha's resolve to train her.

While the text may have special appeal for city kids (Latasha lives in Pittsburgh) or dog lovers I think this is a good book for late elementary and early middle school readers. Latasha and the Little Red Tornado was a delight. I read it in one sitting. When I closed the book, with a few tears in my eyes, I thought, What a good story. This text counts towards to the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Midlandia, 2011 (Book released November 15th, 2011)     Pages: 141     Illustrator: Evette Gabriel
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Received for free for review from the author. Thanks, Mr. Scotto!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

After Lonnie's parents died he and his sister live in separate foster homes. Lonnie uses writing assignments in school to cope. The result is a short novel in verse -- a book of poems that tells a story. Lonnie deals with some heavy stuff for an eleven year old. Grief, loss, separation, loneliness and uncertainty are a few of the themes. But Lonnie also talks of hope and his affection for his sister.

The poems are short, ranging from three lines to a little over a page. From free verse to Haiku there is a variety of poetry Lonnie experiments with to express what he sees, feels and remembers. Locomotion would make great teaching material to use as examples of poetry. The book may also appeal to elementary kids who are ready to move beyond strictly rhyming and silly poems (not that there anything wrong with silly rhyming poems!).

From my perspective, Locomotion was a little sad and ended abruptly. There is a follow up novel called Peace Locomotion in which Lonnie writes letters to his sister. For such a short book it took me a long time to read. The text was often introspective. I don't think I was in the mood for it. Yet, I would recommend this text to kids interested in poetry or for someone looking for a book about grieving. This text counts towards to the POC Reading Challenge

Publisher: Speak, 2003     Pages: 100
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Public Library

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: In Stitches by Anthony Youn, M.D.

Tony was raised to be a doctor. His parents would except nothing less. Growing up as one of two Asian-American kids in a small town wasn't easy. Neither was medical school. In Stitches is a lighthearted memoir about Tony's progression from awkward child to confident doctor. 

The first of five parts covers Youn's premed years: birth-college. He recounts many failed attempts at gaining a girlfriend. The rejections begin piling up. Like most kids, he struggles with his looks and as his jaw juts out it sabotages his lustful ambitions. The text focuses on his attempts to score and until he finds a steady girlfriend the story is more about chasing skirts than becoming a doctor. About a third of the way through, once Youn finds said girl, the text focused much more on his medical school days which was what kept my attention. For all the emphasis on finding a girlfriend I would have liked a bit more about their relationship. We really don't know anything about her.

Things get dicey and interesting in part 4, "Third Year," where Youn recounts the "highlights" of clinical rotations. He encounters interns from hell, detached cool-as-a-cucumber doctors, horrible trauma and quirky surgeons. Tony is drawn to plastic surgery and ends his last year in school working with plastic surgeons around the country. 

Youn tells the story as one looking back, who's breathed a sigh of relief that those grueling years of med school are behind him. One can only imagine what a current medical student might write -- a whoa-is-me type of journal. But Youn's memoir is light and funny. This text counts towards to the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Gallery Books, 2011     Pages: 271     Written with Alan Eisenstock
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Won from Crazy-for-Books. Thanks, Jen!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Genre Cooties - Do You Have Them?

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is: "What's the one genre that you wish you could get into, but just can't?"

Inspirational books - gag! The Chicken Soup, Hugs for so-and-so and generally feel-good books I just don't do. If you like these types of books, great! Just don't assume everyone else does and burden us with them as gifts because you want to avoid giving a candle, bath salts or some other generic gift. The sentiment is great it's just I don't want to slog through pages of mush. Personally, I love bath goodies!

A close second is horror. I can handle scary and suspenseful (Like McCarthy's The Road) most of the time. But the few horror books I've tried (Stephen King, I'm looking at you) I found disappointing, boring and I didn't finish them. So, there are few reviews here at The Prairie Library of inspirational or horror books.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel comes from a long line of necromancers. But instead of bringing the dead back to life, the Abhorsen family takes what has come back to life and returns it to death where it belongs. When her father sends a messenger from death bringing Sabriel his bells and sword -- the special tools of a  necromancer -- she knows her quiet life at school has ended. She must enter The Old Kingdom, her place of birth, yet foreign and lurking with danger, if she is to bring her father, trapped in death by an unknown evil, back to life.

Sabriel was a nice treat. It was classic high fantasy with swords and magic yet it was original. I wasn't sure what to expect and didn't think a story about necromancers would be my thing. But I was hooked from the first page. The idea of using bells as a magical tool was new and I enjoyed it. The descriptions were clear and easy to understand which was good because Nix has created a fascinating world with rules of its own. These "rules" are important in fantasy as they help build the setting and if you're going to bother writing fantasy then the creation of the world is very very important so you better do it right. And Nix does. The descriptions of the necromancer passing between life and death were nothing short of awesome.

The characters were interesting, too. I liked Sabriel. She was hard core and did not become obsessed with the romantic male figure. I appreciated that the focus of this book was not on a romantic relationship but an awesome story. It was refreshing. The secondary characters and villains were engrossing, too. I liked Mogget -- the magical being bound in a cat's body. It's sounds silly, I know, but Nix carries it off. 

Sabriel is a unique and adventurous tale sure to please teenage fantasy fans. This is some of the better storytelling I've come across in YA fiction in a very long time. Don't miss it! 

Publisher: Eos, 2004     Pages: 311
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Meet Einstein by Mariela Kleiner

Meet Einstein encourages children to explore the world. It validates a child's wonder and intense curiosity by showing how scientists are curious people, too, who ask questions, make observations and investigate things that we may take for granted. I was hoping for more information in the story-line about Einstein. The text could have been about Sir. Isaac Newton or Einstein and no one would know the difference. The story will teach preschoolers about gravity and visible light (colors!). I do think it would have been okay to go even deeper and show how light acts like waves and that there's "light" we can't see. Viviana Garofoli's illustrations in Meet Einstein are super cute and demonstrate the many things scientists do. The pictures are appealing and should make science interesting to youngsters. All in all, a good book to share with kiddos aged 2-5.

Publisher: Meet Books, 2008     Pages: 32
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Free from the publisher. Thanks, MB!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Musings of a Grad Student: Summer Break!

Spring was a challenging semester but it ended well! I completed three courses -- Database Systems, Resources for Young Adults and Research Methods -- on my way to becoming a librarian. I also began a new job as an intern in my local library's children's department. While I'm not taking courses this summer I am keeping busy! Here are a few things I've been doing this summer as a intern:
Library Playground and Ped Mall
  • Children's Day was the first Sunday in June. We had 20-some tents outside with kid-friendly activities like face painting, making music, crafts and more. Estimated attendance for the four hour event was 4,000. This was the kick-off for our summer reading program. I helped our librarians locate materials and prepare crafts weeks in advance. The day of the event, we (library staff) and volunteers set out the day's materials. I helped direct volunteers to the booths they signed up to man and registered kids for our S.R.P. program. It was a busy, hot and exciting day!
  • Wii Gaming, hosted by yours truly, is once a week for two hours. I set up two TVs and a projector so up to 12 kids can play at a time. I keep out sign up sheets for the different games and switch every 15 minutes so everyone gets a chance to play. I get between 30-35 kids each week. It's great to see the regulars as well as new kids all interacting and having fun. While many just want to play video games (I'm cool with that. I wasn't a reader as a kid and LOVE video games to this day) I'm always amazed by those who sprawl out books and can read with all the noise! There's always a few who enjoy board games so I set some out. 
  • Special Summer Reading Program Events are once a week with an a.m. program for preschoolers and a p.m. program for elementary age kids. I help our librarian cart supplies and set up the room (i.e. tape the floor for walkways, hang banners, etc). We often have volunteers which are a lifesaver as there are between 150-300 people at the programs. 
  • Children's Reference is ongoing even if I'm not at the desk. This is one of my favorite parts of the job. It can be tricky to find the right book for a kid but is very rewarding. I love all the different questions kids have: Are Tasmanian Devils real? Do you have books on volcanoes? Do I have this book at home? 
  • Book Babies is once a week for 6-18 month old babies. I help our librarian with the program singing songs, doing finger plays, reading books and setting out/picking up toys and board books. I'll be hosting my first book babies program on my own next week!
There's a look at what's keeping me busy this summer! Break is flying by. It's hard to believe I only have one year left of school. After this long, it feels natural to keep learning indefinitely. And that's my mantra here at The Prairie Library - The Spirit of Learning is a Lasting Frontier! For more about being a grad student click on the Musings of a Grad Student link below.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Zan-Gah by Allan Richard Shickman

Zan-Gah is eager to become a man but his journey towards adulthood is perilous. The story opens with an exciting lion hunt which captured my attention right away. Later we learn that Zan’s twin brother, Dael, is missing and Zan-Gah is determined to find and bring Dael home. Like most quest stories the object sought is less important than journey. Zan’s travels test his strength and wisdom as he crosses the borders of hostile clans and landscapes.

The novel left me wanting more. I enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape and liked watching Zan survive harsh environments. Yet I wanted even more description. Sometimes I felt the plot moved too quickly, skimming over things I wanted to know more about, like Zan’s time with the Wasp people where he spends a year which is briefly mentioned in one sentence. Shickman’s writing was clear and never confused me. The tenor of the prose gave me the feeling that the story is very old which is fitting since the subtitle is A Prehistoric Adventure. Yet the simplicity of the prose, and its many well-used figures of speech, again left me wanting more.

The story has a lot of action and brief but strong violence which kept my attention. It also has some great themes like learning to forgive and asking for help. I was a little surprised at the ending. Shickman chose to end the novel talking about Dael, and not the hero Zan-Gah. I found this a bit anti-climactic. Though he fit into the storyline, Dael was a bit of a downer character and since it’s not a story about Dael I was confused why it ended talking about him. There is a sequel, Zan-Gah and The Beautiful Country which I suspect will fill in some of the blanks and looks like it will continue the twins’ story.

While reading, I kept thinking about Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Personally, I enjoyed Zan-Gah more than Hatchet but they are very similar in that a boy is on his own surviving in the wilderness for a good part of the story. I would recommend Zan-Gah to middle school boys who enjoy survival stories. This text counts towards the PoC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Earthshaker Books, 2007     Pages: 148
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Received for free from the publisher. Thanks, Earthshaker!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

On the bottom of Matt’s foot a tattoo states: “Property of the Alacrán Estate.” He is a clone, an exact replica of a powerful drug lord, El Patrón, who rules Opium, a small country between the U.S. and what was once Mexico. While El Patrón dotes on Matt, the rest of the Alacrán family is openly hostile save for one girl, Maria. Everyone seems to know something Matt does not. Who can he trust when everyone seems to be hiding something?

The story is constantly changing direction. As Matt grows up, and his understanding of his situation becomes less fuzzy, his circumstances change – sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Farmer takes her time developing Matt’s character. The chapters are grouped into sections which divide Matt’s life into ages: 0-6, 7-11 and so on. I found Matt’s story gripping, especially the last half. I was reading while riding the bus and I didn’t notice the bus come to stop. I didn’t see everyone get off. Nor did I hear the driver twice tell me the bus was out of service and I needed to get off. (Yeah, I felt a little silly.) That’s how engrossing the story was.

It was exciting and bit scary watching Matt figure out answers to his questions and unearth the dark secrets of El Patrón. Each new chapter of his life required Matt to adapt in order to survive in Farmer’s world. It is an intriguing world with a bizarre political structure, a dangerous drug lord, a psycho family and a resilient protagonist. If you know a middle school or high school reader who enjoys thoughtful science fiction then make sure to recommend The House of the Scorpion.

Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2004     Pages: 380
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale's writing is heavy with simple but lovely metaphors. She transports the reader to Miri's village where the mountain dominates their lives until the Princess Academy alters them forever. It wasn't until about half way through the book that I really got into it. I was reading on the bus and had a hard time keeping back tears. Miri's fear of being useless because of her small size was so sad and sweet. I enjoyed watching Miri overcome her fears and develop the self-confidence she needed to help the village and other girls at the academy. If you're looking for a sweet, gentle read with a bit of suspense then Princess Academy may be what you're looking for. This is definitely a girly read great for elementary and early middle school readers.

Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2007     Pages: 336
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library

Summary: "Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess. Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Books in My TBR Pile

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is: How many books are currently in your to-be-read pile? I have approximately 100 books on my TBR shelf. That sounds like a lot but many are kids/YA books which don't take as long to read as adult books. My pile was higher about a year ago. I haven't bought as many new/used books lately. So, my personal stack is dwindling. I'm thinking about weeding some out, like used Tom Clancy books I bought years ago, and will likely never read. I borrow a lot from the library, too, causing me to neglect my own books. I've been trying to remedy by reading more of my own books but it's not easy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: The Broken Kingdoms by J. K. Jemisin

Summary: "In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree's guest is at the heart of it. . ."

My interest in the story fluctuated.  I found Oree complex but overall a boring character. The world of Shadow, however, was interesting. The way magic worked for mortals and the social structure of the city, Shadow, helped make up for my disinterest in other parts of the book. It became obvious who was behind the intrigue and why so I wasn't reading to see what happened.

What kept me coming back to the book was Jemisin's writing style. I love the way she describes the world and action scenes. Sometimes I find many writers have difficulty writing concise action scenes that are easy to picture but Jemisin's action scenes were great. The chapters are titled like paintings and we are told with what materials the "painting" is  made. Along with Oree being an painter, the chapter titles gave the book an artistic feel. I liked trying to figure out what the chapter would be about based on the titles.

The Broken Kingdoms continues where the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, left off but does so through mostly new characters. Only a few from the first book made brief appearances. I found the first book to be very heavy on the romance while The Broken Kingdoms focused much more on the "the story."

I'm not sure if I'll read the final book in The Inheritance Trilogy when it comes out. I felt like the story ended with this book but I may read the last just to see it through. I  do suggest reading the first book and not jumping ahead. It will make much more sense who this "homeless man" is and why he acts the way he does if you've read book one. This text counts towards the PoC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Orbit, 2010     Pages: 416
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Public Library

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Mmm, cupcakes. They're cute and taste good! Who doesn't like a cupcake? The pictures below are of cupcakes I made using recipes and decoration ideas from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.

All recipes are from scratch. Except for a few decorative candies, the marzipan and fondant, this book will teach you how to make everything in your own kitchen. No box mixes!

While having fancy equipment is nice it's not necessary to make the cakes and frosting. I own a Sunbeam mixer (with a wonky beater) and find I can still make my frosting stiff or fluffy - whichever I need. If you want to do the fun and fancy frosting decorations you will need a piping bag and tips. I bought a 12 piece Wilson set and find I can make everything so far in the book. The frosting is most of the fun and I recommend getting some tips, even if just a few, so you can swirl and peak and make petals. Having an offset spatula facilitates doing frosting like on the book cover but you can always use a butter knife. Picture: White and Devil's Food cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream in roses and peaks.

Buy the best quality of ingredients as your budget allows because these cakes are meant to be delicious! If you skimp you could run into problems. For instance, I used chocolate chips once instead of baker's chocolate and the frosting was very disappointing. I learned my lesson! If it says use cake flour, not regular flour, buy the cake flour, etc. These recipes are for gourmet (but doable) cake so don't waste your time and money on the wrong ingredients! That being said, I only use imitation vanilla when it calls for the real deal. The only ingredient I've had trouble finding is marzipan. Picture (above): Devil's Food cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream for grass and marzipan for ladybugs. Tip: don't do frosting with sweaty hands or the frosting will melt in your piping bag and refuse to form well. Also, these were outside in June so, the "grass" looks dewy. Picture (left): Banana-Pecan w/ Swiss Meringue Buttercream (chocolate version gone wrong) and fondant monkey faces.

The instructions are thorough and easy to follow. I am never left guessing. The writing is clear and there is a helpful section, The Basics, in the back on baking tools, ingredients, cookies, frosting, presentation ideas and templates, ingredient sources, and an index. The recipes are grouped as follows: Swirled and Sprinkled, Filled and Layered, Piped and Topped, Birthdays, Holidays, and Celebrations. Each has at least one full-page color photo of the finished cupcakes and several other photos show how to make frosting and decorations. Picture: One-Bowl Chocolate cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream as beetles and butterflies. Cake not recommended for humid days. The wings were difficult to cut, with lots of crumbs, as the cake was super moist.

Total times for making these cakes ranges from two to six hours depending on the complexity of the cake and frosting and how many you make. There is truly a cake for every occasion. I began baking not knowing what I was doing and am getting better with each try. There's really no reason to be intimidated by any of the recipes. It is totally possible to make parts at a time - bake the cakes and refrigerate/freeze them one day then make the frosting the next.

I'm not a Martha Stewart junky at all. I've only seen parts of her show. Yet, I've enjoyed baking these cakes and will keep making more from this book. The cakes are always a big hit. You won't go wrong with Martha Stewart's Cupcakes!
Picture (above): Applesauce-Spice cupcakes with Brown-Sugar Cream-Cheese Frosting. Picture (right): Yellow Buttermilk cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream as pigs. Picture (below): Black Forest Cupcake with sweet pastry cream (inside), cherries and chocolate ganache!

Publisher: Clarkson Potter, 2003     
Pages: 352
Full Title: Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat
Source: Christmas Gift
Rating: 4.5 Stars     

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Finally, I've read Harry Potter! Wow, what great characters! I loved Hagrid, the giant "gamekeeper," who befriends Harry and sees him through his first year at the wizards' school, Hogwarts. Harry's story as "the boy who lived" is so endearing yet sometimes I found him dry... that is, until he meets Ron and Hermione and they get into some close calls while tracking mysterious happenings at the school. Need a plot summery? Click here.

The interactions between characters felt so real and there was some great dialogue. Despite the fact that they have magical abilities, it felt like I was reading about otherwise normal kids who worry about wearing hand-me-downs and meeting expectations. The professors were equally as interesting. I liked never knowing what to think about professor Snape - is he good, bad? Don't tell me! I want to read the books without spoilers!

The Hogwarts world is very creative with it's own candy, newspaper and sport, quidditch. Reading about the quidditch tournaments was a little boring for me but they worked into the plot of the story so well that I was soon happily reading again. I enjoyed the academic environment of Hogwarts and got a chuckle out of the library scenes with magical books and a very old-fashioned librarian guarding them.

There were a few dark moments (that unicorn scene, ick!) but that's the nature of fantasy. In order to have an epic tale of good vs. evil there must be dark moments. I didn't find the dark parts too overwhelming for young readers.

I'm glad I made time for Harry Potter. I'll slowly make my way through the series. Has anyone listened to them on CD? Are they any good?

Publisher: Scholastic, 2008     Pages: 330
Stars: 4                                          Source: Public Library

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My library's summer reading slogan for children this year is "One World, Many Stories." I've been trying to read a few titles off our book list so I can be helpful when kids or parents ask about them. So far, I've read The Breadwinner and now Number the Stars.

Summary: "Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen, often think about life before the war. But it's now 1943, and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching in their town. The Nazis won't stop. The Jews of Denmark are being "relocated," thus Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family. Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to save her best friend's life. There's no turning back now."

Historical fiction comes in many forms. Some texts strain for historical accuracy while others take liberties for the sake of an engaging story. Lowry creates an engaging story while adhering closely to actual events. Readers will gain an appreciation for the Danish resistance during WWII while being swept away by Annemarie's bravery. My great grandfather was from Denmark so I had fun picking up a bit of Danish history. If you know an elementary or early middle school reader who likes historical fiction I highly suggest Number the Stars.

Publisher: Yearling, 1990     Pages: 137
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Author I Want Most to Meet?

This week's Book Blogger Hop Question: Who is the one author that you are dying to meet?

I have this fear about meeting authors. I worry they will fail to meet my ridiculous expectations and I will never be able to read his or her books ever again. I've heard/met a few authors and this has never happened... but it could. And then I couldn't read them anymore!

For instance, what if I had the good fortune to walk into a cafe, sit at the counter, and there next to me, sipping coffee like a cool cowboy, was the ever private Cormac McMcarthy? First of all, what would I say knowing he values his privacy? I think I'd go with the librarian bit to try and earn brownie points:
"Hey, I'm a librarian and I love your books"? That sounds dumb. 

And what if he did talk to me - Cormac and I chewing the fat as we dip our fries in chili - and he turns out to be a total douche? I don't think I could handle that. Like I said, I've never had a negative encounter with an author before. They've been very exciting and positive experiences. But meeting them just makes me nervous!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Parvana lives in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. When her father is taken prisoner, it falls to Parvana to keep the family alive. She sheds her tresses and chador and dresses like a boy to move freely in public and make money by reading for those who cannot.

Parvana's story is a page turner. I was fascinated by her struggle to be a young girl who loves to play and learn but who also shoulders a heavy and dangerous burden. Living in a one-room apartment created tension within the family especially since women could not go outdoors without a male escort. The bickering between Parvana and her older sister, though sometimes funny, was mostly heartbreaking since each knew she shouldn't add to the other one's suffering. It was exciting to watch the family cope and make the best of their situation. The realities of living in a war-torn country are harsh but Ellis creates dynamic and captivating characters who shine through the darkness. The Breadwinner, the first in a trilogy, stands well on its own and is a great read for 5th-7th grade readers. This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Groundwood, 2001.     Pages: 170
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline goes exploring in her new house where she finds a door that opens to a brick wall. Little does Coraline know that she's opened a portal to a strange and eerily similar world. When the bricks disappear, Coraline steps through the door to find a house identical to her own but with fantastic toys and wonderful food. But there is another mother and father and the "other mother" intends to trap Coraline forever.

Gaiman's writing was fantastic. I kept thinking this guy can write. The story reminded me a lot of Alice in Wonderland -- there was even a snobbish cat. While I enjoyed Coraline it did not evoke much of a response from me; however, I think kids who enjoy fairy tales and those who like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will appreciate this book. There is a movie out, too, which I plan to watch. I think it looks good. Have your read or watched Coraline?

Publisher: Boomsbury, 2002     Pages: 176
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Public Library

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wordless Books Review: Shadow and Wave by Suzy Lee

Shadow begins as a young girl enters a garage full of tools and junk. Using her imagination, and aided by her shadow, the girl creates a wonderland to play in. The text is laid out so that the pages flip up like a calendar. On the top page is the real world and the bottom page displays a mirror of shadow images which show the reader what the girls sees in her mind. As the story progresses, the real world and shadow world begin to blend showing how the girl becomes immersed in her imagination. I recognized myself in the the text's little girl as I was often happily lost in my own fantasy world at that age. If you notice children playing by themselves, who are completely immersed in their play, and wonder what it is they are seeing, I recommend reading Shadow to find out.

In Wave, a little girl plays in the ocean's surf. It begins with her charging towards to water and timidly testing it with her toes. Soon she is splashing away, scaring off sea gulls and collecting sea shells. It is a cute story in which the girl learns the exciting power of the sea. As she leaves with her mom, the girl looks back over her shoulder and waves goodbye to the ocean.

A book without words can still tell a story. In Shadow (2010) and Wave (2008), Suzy Lee captures childhood in its simplistic glory. The plot of each story is less important than the overall experience conveyed. The stories' brevity remind me of a haiku in that they capture one moment in an exquisite manner. Here is a link to the Suzy Lee's website. These books count toward the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2010 and 2008     Pages: 44 and 40
Rating: 4 and 3.5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

Reading Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There was a new step for me as a reader. I have entered the realm of the travelogue. As my first read in the genre I cannot readily compare this book to others like it nor have I read Bryson before. There were things I liked and things I loathed about this book so bare with me.

The text starts out strong, as Bryson explores Hammerfest, Oslo and Paris. It was a rough start to his journey and for these fifty pages I was laughing out loud. Actually, I read this section aloud to my mom. Bryson’s journey to Hammerfest revived memories of our foreign travels and we cracked up to Bryson’s sarcastic and self-deprecating sense of humor.

The next seventy pages were pure tedium as Bryson recounts mostly negative experiences and impressions while visiting several Germanic countries. The text also gravitated towards lewd jokes based off Bryson’s observations of trashy magazines, porn and such which simply did not interest me. Naked people can be found anywhere. One needn’t go to Europe to find them. This paired with his negative impressions caused the middle to drag.

Finally, Bryson breaks his route early and heads to Italy where his experience and the text became much more enjoyable. I enjoyed his Roman holiday having spent a week there myself. It was fun reliving some of the sights through the text and makes me want to go back.

The book is nearly twenty years old and while the ancient splendor of Europe remains some things have changed. For instance, the Euro has replaced country-specific currency which Bryson used. So, if you’re looking for up-to-date information this book is not what you need. Yet, if you want a feel for what an average American might experience while traveling in Europe, Bryson’s book may be for you.

Publisher: Perennial, 1992     Pages: 254     
Rating: 2.5 Stars     Source: purchased copy