Friday, May 31, 2013

75th Anniversary: The Wizard of Oz

Did anyone else have a Wizard of Oz on Christmas tradition?

I distinctly remember watching the Wizard of Oz at my grandparents' house in Milwaukee.  I don't remember if it was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but I do remember hiding behind the Christmas Tree.  That scary, green witch!  Of course, after hiding from her, I would inevitably dream that she was coming out of the television to get me- and this was very pre-Ringu.

The trauma wore off, though, and I spent an elementary school summer break reading all of the Oz books.  A task I would like to undertake again...maybe when there is a Little Sare-endipity to share the magic with.  I fell in love with the land, and the characters.  The movie, too, grew on me as I got older- and as my mother and uncles made fun of the witch's guards.  "Please, and take it with you!" (fast forward to 1:16)

So, I was very excited to see that Capstone Young Readers came out with a 75th Anniversary book adaptation of the film (coming out August 2013).

The Wizard of Oz adapted by Beth Bracken (written by L. Frank Baum; movie-fied by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf ) uses film stills and original dialogue from the 1939 classic movie to create a picture book for young readers.

I guess it would be an okay companion, if one had already seen the movie.  I would not use it as an introduction to the Merry Old Land of Oz.  

The narration was okay- a lot of the sentences started with conjunctions (which I am guilty of, so, meh *shrug*).  I didn't find the visual content very aesthetic.  While I enjoyed the green and gold themes of the pages, the movie stills didn't flow organically.  It was like they were copy/pasted into a template.  A fairly boring, redundant template. Like- I could've done it on Shutterfly and made it more interesting. I just don't feel the stills translated well on the page.  

As I said- it would be okay to read along with, or after, the movie (which is being re-released this year! *fist pump*).  However, there are so many other adaptations, with much better visuals.  I wouldn't recommend getting this.  If you must, though, get the original book to supplement it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Really Awesome Mess

"They sent me away to boarding school. Sent me away makes it sound like they sent me to an asylum. There were no straps involved." -Andrew Largeman, Garden State

I try to relate books to other books, or movies.  This YA novel was like Garden State mixed with Juno, mixed with Perks of Being a Wallflower, with snippets of Fault in Our Stars.  And I ate it up (pun kind of intended).

A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook & Brendan Halpin is, well, a really, awesome mess!

This is the story of Emmy and Justin. Both are 16. Both are "messed up."

Emmy is adopted. She's Chinese, and her real parents left her, because, well, she's a girl.  Her adoptive parents and sister are all tall, thin, and blonde. She always feels like an outsider.  After threatening a bully at school, she is sent to Heartland Academy.

Justin feels numb.  When his Dad walks in on him with a girl, in a compromising position, things just go downhill.  After a handful of Tylenol, he is sent to Heartland Academy.

The two find each other, and an unconventional group of friends, at this reform school. They are denied Internet, TV, razors, nail clippers, tweezers, and books like 13 Reasons Why. Through classes, therapy sessions, and different antics, they learn to deal with their issues, discover themselves, and let others in.  

Oh goodness, I loved this book.  It's snarky and sarcastic, sad and cynical, quippy and crass...a full range of teenage emotion.  With some serious laugh-out-loud moments.

It's told from alternating points-of-view, and does so as well as a David Levithan novel.

The supporting cast was as good as the two main players.  We've got Mohammed, Justin's roommate, who's the "only black kid in 100 miles" and has some anger issues.  Jenny, Emmy's roommate, who has selective mutism and a bit of an obsession with pigs.  Diana, the 13-year old, cute-as-pie "psycho" and Chip, the mullet-sporting gamer, round out the Anger Management Group-turned-friends.

As Justin and Emmy try to make their way through the 6-tiered system, they made their way into my mind and heart.  I was rooting for these kids, who have these deep-seated issues.  I wanted them to achieve the next breakthrough (as much as I wanted them to backtalk the counselor trying to help them).  As I got deeper and deeper into their issues, my heart hurt for them.  And that made the breakthroughs that much more sweet.

If anything, read the book for an epic bout of Porcine Pandemonium at the State Fair.  I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of Ellen Page/Michael Cera movies & David Levithan or John Green books. I would also recommend it to anyone who has an interest in teens and mental health, unconventional heroes, and bacon.

A Really Awesome Mess is published by Egmont USA.  ARC provided by NetGalley.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reality Ends Here

Guilty Pleasure admission: I love reality TV.  I tend to go more toward the weight loss/cooking challenge shows, though.  The others make me feel better about myself for an episode or two, and then I just feel sad/frustrated/over the characters and drama.  I did watch all episodes of Jon & Kate Plus 8 (stopped when it became Kate Plus 8).

That is what got my interest piqued for Edgar-nominated Alison Gaylin's YA mystery: Reality Ends Here.

Estella Blanchard's father died 10 years ago. Since then, her mother has re-married.  For the past 6 years, Estella's life has gained a new stepfather, sextuplet half-siblings, and a reality show- Seven Is Heaven. It's hard enough being a teenager- without having an image-obsessed family, and your life being caught on camera 24/7.  After a viral video-worthy incident, Estella is forced to attend "therapy" for troubled child stars- run by "not Gary Coleman." 

To add fuel to the fire, she's got a paparazzo stalker, who swears her dad is still alive; she keeps seeing the same sketchy people in the oddest places- and of course there's the huge crush on a boy band pop star!  Will life ever have any semblance of normality for Estella?

I really enjoyed this book.  It was an entertaining mystery (and I tend to not go for mysteries).  I thought Estella was spunky and likable.  She had a good relationship with her siblings- teaching them sign language to communicate privately, though cameras were all around.  I will say, I rolled my eyes at her Mom enough to strain them.

The child star (and former child star) characters were SO entertaining.  You'd be feeling sad for them one minute, and laughing at their antics the next- while still feeling sad.  It was amazing the lengths the stars would go to to either keep things hidden, or to get noticed.  There was a lot of pop-culture name dropping: Teen Choice Awards, One Direction, Bieber, Gomez, Scarlett Johansson, Full House, etc.  So that will make it relatable to teens and tweens.

The mystery aspect was good.  I mean, it's not Dan Brown, but it got (and kept) me interested.  A slight clue would be dropped, and I would wonder "wait...where did that come from???" or "how did that disappear?" or "what is the relationship between this and that?"  It kept me guessing, and made me want to keep turning pages. 

I also liked the way the book showed how unrealistic Reality TV is.  Staging fights, planting objects, exploiting emotions, and sponsors up the wazoo!

All in all- I thought Reality Ends Here was an entertaining, pop-culture mystery!

 Reality Ends Here eBook is published by Simon & Schuster.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Am Algonquin

As it says in my brief, little, header thingie at the top of my "About Me" section- I grew up in Downeast Maine.  As the crow flies, 2 miles from Canada, and about 15 from the Atlantic Ocean.  My father worked as a Forester for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. -And yes, before we moved there, all I could think of was the town in Pete's Dragon. I grew up with close friends within the tribe (even another Sarah Dawn!), and was frequently around that culture.  In fact, for a report for grad school few years ago, I was watching the PBS show Colonial House.  I knew it had been filmed near my hometown, but was surprised to see George, a family friend, on the show in full costume.  He and my father were good friends- they hunted moose together, and George helped build our log home. He has since passed away, but I do rent the DVDs from time to time when I'm feeling homesick.

The above paragraph is part of the reason I wanted to read I Am Algonquin: An Algonquin Quest Novel by Rick Revelle.  The Passamaquoddy tribe is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and is part of the Algonquin Nation.  The Wabanaki Confederacy consisted of five tribes that banded together in response to Iroquois aggression. The Tribe was such a large part of my childhood, I wanted to learn more about Algonquin history.

I Am Algonquin is a Young Adult historical novel that follows Mahingan and his family in 14th century Ontario.  Through it, the reader learns traditional Algonquin ways of life- hunting, playing sports, marriages, births, deaths, tribal conflicts and warfare, and the rites of passage for boys to become men.  It was really interesting to learn more about the gender roles, and how highly regarded women were.  

I wasn't the biggest fan of the dialogue.  While I enjoyed learning the vernacular, it just felt...clunky. It kind of reminded me of that scene in Anchorman where Baxter is talking to the Bear. I could understand if they were trying to speak English- but since this is 14th century, pre-European invasion...they are supposed to be speaking their native tongue, and I would figure it would flow a bit more smoothly.  It did seem to get better toward the end- maybe I just got used to it.

As I said in my post on far far away I love learning languages.  I appreciated Revelle's use of the Algonquin language in his narrative.  However, it got to be a bit distracting.  Each Algonquin word was followed by a parenthetical translation.  This would have been fine, except he uses a lot of Algonquin vocabulary.  I think it would have been much smoother to have footnotes on each page with the translation (this is probably just personal preference).  Revelle does include a glossary at the end of the book- instead of footnotes, he could've maybe just written the Algonquin in bold in the text?

Also, there was a point where the point-of-view suddenly changed from first person (Mahingan) to third-person.  It threw a wrench in the flow of reading, because all of a sudden we're getting two perspectives and thinking " can Mahingan be both here and here at the same time?  And why is he referring to himself in the third-person?"

Those are my only pseudo-complaints (they're really not that big- they didn't detract much from the overall story).  While I mentioned I wasn't a fan of the dialogue, I have to say I was a huge fan of the descriptive narration.  I would read ten pages on a battle and not even realize it!  The final battle alone is worth the read.

One of my favorite scenes involves a woodland buffalo hunt with members of the Wabanaki Tribe.  From the tracking to the kill to the butchering, I was enraptured (I grew up around all this, so it wasn't a tough read).  There is actually a point where he is describing the smell of the decaying meat, and I remembered the time my Dad had gotten a moose.  He and George came home, and Dad had set the skull (not fully cleaned) on top of the coat closet, and started putting his equipment away.  A week or so went by and we could not figure out what this horrible smell in the house was- I was standing on our landing, and saw a skull/antlers with bits of moose still on it.  So, I absolutely related to that whole chapter.

My other favorite scene was a battle over hunting grounds.  Not just any battle, though!  I was expecting blood and death and war-cries.  I got an epic game of lacrosse.  I wish we still settled disagreements that way...

There are moments of great joy and celebration, moments of fear and sorrow.  It is a good narrative of what life was like for these people in that time.  

I'd rate this probably a 3.5/5.  I loved the history, the description, and learning about Algonquin traditions.  I just wish it had flowed a bit better with the dialogue and vocabulary.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in Tribal history, Canadian history, hunting, and languages.  

I Am Algonquin: An Algonquin Quest Novel is published by Dundurn. ARC provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cozy Classics: Les Misérables

As I sat at the reference desk the other day, a little girl wandered into the Youth Department. Looking around, with eyes wide, she headed straight toward our New Picture Books Display. From that tiny girl, came a shockingly loud "MOM! THIS IS SO COOL!" Which, of course, made my heart happy. Little people excited for books!

As an English major, I do enjoy the classics (well, most of them). I was so happy to discover this board book series: "My Cozy Classics." It takes a classic novel like Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Moby Dick or Oliver Twist, and puts it in a format that can grow with a child. Instead of drawings, the illustrations are needle-felted. Actually, I'd be much more likely to read Moby Dick again in this format. [Bonus: Here is a REALLY COOL video on how they do the needle-felting]

According to the  website

Cozy Classics uses a simple one word/one image format to help babies and toddlers build vocabulary and learn everyday concepts such as body parts, emotions, animals, relationships, actions, and opposites. However, Cozy Classics organizes everyday words in a more unique way: through story. By putting words in the context of a story, our books help children find further meaning through a growing sense of narrative.

I was lucky enough to review a copy of the Cozy Classics version of Les Misérables.  

The experience was a bit...roller-coastery for me.  I went into it without reading the back of the book, or knowing what Cozy Classics was about. I was excited to read it at first, then realized it was the one word/one image format.  I had expected something with a bit more narrative.  I was disappointed.


I had never seen needle felting before, and kept going back to look at the illustrations.  About the third or fourth time going through, I realized "Actually, what better way to start your child off with a classic!"  The pictures tell enough of the story that the single word does its job- enriching the child's vocabulary, and putting it in context.  Then, I thought about it some more, and realized that the child could grow with this book!  From learning the words, to telling, and understanding, the story!

A brief synopsis of the story is provided on the back, and a more detailed one is provided on the website (which also includes quotes from the novel).  Parents can explain to the child what is happening, and eventually the child will be able to relate words to scenes.

I did want to provide a second picture, better showing the illustration.  This is from the Cozy Classics website, and was one of my favorite parts of the book.  I actually laughed out loud.  The word for the page is "STROLL," and is the scene where Cosette and Valjean are strolling through the garden, as Marius looks on...and even in felt, Marius looks like a creeper.

Having read this title, I find myself looking forward to the rest of the series coming out (and I don't even have kids yet!).  Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice acquisition is going to a priority.  

Definitely recommended to those who enjoy needle crafts, classic literature, and early literacy. 

The "My Cozy Classics" series is published by Simply Read Books.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

far far away

"Hallå! it not a great day to be alive?", I LOVE FAIRY TALES!  and Folklore.  Like...I liked Mythology so much I wanted to be a Classics major.  Which I was...for a year.  Then I realized I liked the stories more than the history (apologies to my Roman History professor for spending the last half of the semester blatantly doing crossword puzzles during class)- and switched to English.

So...there may be a few fairy tale reviews on this blog.  Some may be based on classics, some may be completely original, but they will most definitely be on here.

far far away by Tom McNeal (published by Knopf Books for Young Readers) had me at "enchanted cake."  It is the story of Jeremy Johnson Johnson, his friend Ginger, and the ghost of Jacob Grimm, all in the small town of Never Better.   Jeremy is our protagonist, a boy for whom nothing seems to go quite right.  His mother ran away with another man, and his father hasn't left his room for years. Even better- he is the only person who can hear the ghost of Jacob Grimm (who has taken to being his...Jiminy Cricket of sorts :D).  

The Swedish bakery in town, run by a dead-ringer for Santa Claus, sells Prinsesstårta, which is rumored to be bewitched, and makes a person fall in love with the first person he or she sees- one can guess where this leads with Ginger and Jeremy.  I do not want to spoil anything, but will say I was riveted- the story takes a deliciously twisted turn, and from there, the page turning does not stop.

Our ghastly narrator weaves a beautiful tale, with a voice (I imagine) reminiscent of Jim Henson's Storyteller TV series (which I've watched more times than I should probably admit).

As I opened the book, I was instantly drawn in by a macabre, woodcut illustration of a child being taken from his crib by death.  "This is going to be good!" I thought.  I was not disappointed.  Because of our narrator's observational abilities, I was reminded of the small town and inhabitants in J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy- however, this book left me with a less...hopeless feeling.

I'm a sucker for words and languages and the power they hold.  I loved the vocabulary in far far away, and even more so the pops of German, Swedish, and French.  I got excited at the use of "remuneration" and couldn't wait to see what was coming next!  It was like an etymological Christmas!

Then!  Oh, and then, there was the incredible fairy tale aspect.  Or rather, storytelling.  Stories of both fantasy and reality, "words on pages and the world as we know it."  And because of the Grimm aspect, mention of the more obscure tales ("Faithful John" is one of my favorites!) found me looking around my living room, smiling knowingly- as if I shared this secret with the author and our good friend Jacob.  And gained strange looks from my husband *shrug*.

I found it fantastical, enchanting, was tough to put down!  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys storytelling, language, creepiness, and suspense.

ARC courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House- due out June 2013.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Okay, I admit...I judged this book by its cover.  The colors and lines really jumped out at me.  I also admit, I only knew about Jane Goodall before reading this graphic novel.

Primates chronicles three female scientists who were all recruited by anthropologist Louis Leakey (whom I'd also never heard of- ah well).  Evenly paneled story-boards take us through this fantastic journey of primatological study.  We start with Jane Goodall, and her study of chimpanzees. We then join Dian Fossey in her fight for the safety of mountain gorillas.  Eventually, Birutė Galdikas swoops in and rehabilitates orphaned orangutans.  I laughed more than once, as each had humorous/strange/unbelievable interactions and experiences with the primates and new environments.

As I said before, I had only heard of Jane Goodall before reading this.  I was so very impressed with each woman's story, and her contributions to this area of study.

The artwork is bright, very eye-catching.  I don't want to say it is simple, but the panels are not overcrowded.  The narration is informal- a mix of exposition and dialogue.   It feels voyeuristic (in a non-creepy sense)- like you're a fly on the wall, experiencing all these little moments with Jane, Dian and Birutė.  

All-in-all, an enjoyable triple biography.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in anthropology, strong, smart women, and travel.  I could even see some boys interested, due to some very funny (though probably not at the time), embarrassing situations.

Thank you for the chance to review, :01 First Second!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Feels good to be back!

Ah, blogging.  I have as much success with blogging as I do with journaling.  That is- start out strong, get overwhelmed, take time off, get overwhelmed catching up with everything that happened since last post, throw in the towel for a few years.

Quick summation (is that redundant?)- 

Recently married:

Became Mother to this Giant with Small-Dog Complex:

Promoted to Head of Youth Services at my Library:

I often get advance copies of books (and not-so-advance copies of books), and while I read them, it's not always in a timely manner.  I am hoping starting a review blog (again) will keep me accountable to both reading AND reviewing.  

So, wish me luck!  Follow me!  Encourage me!  I'm sure I'll be throwing in some fun "Overheard at the Library" tidbits.  화이팅!

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