Happy New Year!

Happy new year everybody! I’m heading off to a birthday party, but I wanted to post one more time before the year ended!

This has been a long year for me, but also a very memorable one. I’m looking forward to next year, but 2005 will always be a very special year for me. I’ll miss it a little.

Anyway, I hope you are all having a great time partying or sleeping or whatever you do to ring in the new year!

Book: If Elephants Wore Pants…

If Elephants Wore Pants…
Hanriette Barkow
Illustrator: Richard Johnson

This is a very cute picture book about a little boy who is taken to visit Elephant Land where all the elephants wear pants. There really isn’t more story than that, just a lot of pretty two-page spreads showing what the boy and the elephant did in Elephant Land. Each picture shows the elephant wearing a different pair of pants and the text always makes sure to tell us about his current pair. Despite the lack of story, the book is fun to read.

The writing is simple and only three or four short lines of text grace each double-page spread. Each spread’s three or four lines are actually a rhyming couplet. The rhyming is nice (and appealing to small children) especially in that it rarely feels forced. I like that the text is presented in more than two lines and that the end of the first “line” is always in the middle of the paragraph and never at the end of a line. This means that the reader is far more likely to read it simply as text and not use the sing-song voice that comes so often from reading obvious rhyming verse. Drawing the eye away from the rhyme also puts the focus on the images in the book, which works very well for this particular story as it largely relies on the pictures. It is a simple visual trick, but it works very well for the book.

The illustrations themselves are quite entertaining. They are brightly coloured with just enough detail to make them fun to look at but not too much to take in. The different pants make a fun focus in each picture, but they never overwhelm the rest of the image. The pictures of the pear orchard and the painter’s studio are my favourites. They are both so saturated with colour (nearly every page is) that I almost wish I could frame them for a child’s room! And the endpapers are just as wonderful. They are covered with pictures of the elephant wearing his various pairs of pants! It’s adorable!

In short, I really enjoy this book. If you are looking for a sweet keepsake story, this isn’t it, but it is a fun book to read and brilliantly designed. I highly recommend it!

Publisher’s Description
Buy it from Amazon

Book: Lost in the Labyrinth

Lost in the Labyrinth
Patrice Kindl

This book is a little different from Kindl’s other novels in that it is a retelling of a specific story. The book retells the legend of the Minotaur from Greek mythology from the point of view of Xenodice, one of the Minotaur’s human sisters. To set the world for the story Kindl used archaeological finds to establish a female-controlled island country based on factual information (if not fully supported in the legend itself). This world quickly proves itself to be very different from the Greece we are familiar with through myth and allows the characters to feel more real than they might have otherwise. Xenodice is an interesting subject to have as our viewpoint throughout the story because she is not really a central player in the legend, but has a uniquely placed point of view to show us another side of the story we are familiar with. Through her eyes we are made to feel sorry for the Minotaur, Asterius, and irritated with the heroes of the legend, Theseus and Ariadne.

The writing is as excellent as ever, just what I have come to expect from Kindl. It flows well and her characters have a definite voice each their own. The pacing, which could easily have dragged given how short the source story is, moves just right and pulls you along with it without being frustrating, boring or confusing. This book is very different from Kindl’s other books in that the reader knows what is going to happen in the end, so the book is largely missing her usual surprising plot turns. That said, there were certainly aspects of the story that surprised me, even though I knew what would eventually happen. I knew Icarus and his father would fly away, but their flight still surprised me in it’s timing. I really liked that she could surprise me despite the familiarity of the story, it gave her book a freshness that many retellings lack.

This book is excellent. It is not quite as good as some of Kindl’s original stories, but it is definitely fun to read and feels just as realistic as any of her other books. I highly recommend this book!

Book: Zhuangzi Speaks: The Music of Nature

Zhuangzi Speaks: The Music of Nature
Tsai Chih Chung
Translator: Brian Bruya

This is a book of stories illustrating the principles of daoism. It was written in Taiwan about the Daoist teacher Zhuangzi who lived and taught sometime in the fourth and third centuries B.C.E. The book is structured like a graphic novel in comic panels and short stories (usually two to four pages long). This makes it easy to read. The stories are generally funny or otherwise amusing in some way, so that makes the book highly enjoyable. But don’t let the comic book structure and funny stories fool you, this book definitely makes you think about the world, it’s structure and the way in which you and those around you interact with it. The combination of these features is brilliant and masterfully achieved.

I obviously have no idea how the original text reads, but this translation is witty and clear. It is incredibly easy to read. The pictures are clever and always appropriate to the theme and story at hand. I am very impressed by the quality of every aspect of this book!

Probably what impressed me the most was how clear this book made the basic ideals of daoism. I am certain that I don’t understand the intricate issues of the philosophy after reading this book, but I do understand the basic concepts now (which I very much didn’t before). I would absolutely use this as the text in a class trying to teach the basic ideas of daoist philosophy.

I loved this book. It was fascinating and fun to read. I highly recommend it!

All my thanks to Viv for recommending it to me!

New American Girl Announced!

The new American Girl of Today for 2006 has been announced by the Pleasant Company! She sounds really interesting and I definately want to read her book. Her name is Jess and she is 10 years old. Her parents are archeologists studying the mayans and her story takes her on a trip with her parents to study ruins in Belize. I think that sounds really interesting and I love that her accessories are travel things like a passport, map and guide book. I’m looking forward to seeing Jess’s book and I hope that Pleasant Company creates more girls with interesting concepts like this one!

Happy Birthday, Winnie-ther-Pooh!

It is Winnie-the-Pooh’s 80th Birthday today! He was introduced to the public through a BBC radio show on Christmas Eve, 1925. I have adored this silly old bear (and most especially his best pal, Piglet) my whole life. I still remember my grandfather reading the stories to me. I read them to Michael a few years ago, since he had never heard them, and he loves them now too! My favourite part is when Pooh falls out of the tree trying to think, but each thought gets gossled out of his head when he hits a branch. Michael’s favourite part is the flood story where Pooh creates his own boat, and then debates with it for a while who is supposed to be on top. I honestly think everyone should read the four original books by A. A. Milne. So Happy Birthday to everyone in the Hundred Acre Woods! I hope you have at least 80 more wonderful years there!

Oh, and don’t say I misspelled his name in the title of this blog, I didn’t. Go read the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne for an explanation.

Boring Tech Bits

For the curious:

The new site is WordPress 1.5. Translating the site from MovableType to WordPress was stunningly easy, with automated scripts provided by WP handling most of the work. The most time-consuming bit was moving over her extra pages, on the sidebar there. WordPress is very easy to skin, and we went through a number of options before settling on this Theme, entitled ‘Thirteen’. It’s written by WordPress wonderkind Becca, who has several themes up for option. The sidebar opening menus were cribbed from several WordPress themes, drawing the elements together to make what you see there.

WordPress supports a number of neat options, including incredibly handy plug-ins. Pixiepalace.com uses Random Quotes for the quote selection on the left, Search Pages, to allow the search function to look at pages as well as posts, and SecureImage for the captcha that is even now making you squint to decide if that’s a 1 or an I.

I have to say, I was so impressed by WordPress that I toyed around with the idea of moving Randomdialogue over to the system as well. You can see my results over here (warning: url will expire). I ended up deciding to stick with Blogger for now, but during my mulling period I did a lot of research. What you see on that dev page is the result of a night’s worth of hard work, and without resources I wouldn’t have been able to do it. If you’re thinking of moving a Blogger blog to WordPress, I highly recommend Justinsomnia’s How-To and Andy Skelton’s improved transfer program.

We had a lot of fun making the new site work. I hope you enjoy it.

– Michael

New Site Design!

I have an awesome new website! I love the green design and the pages are all still there, but a few links are broken. I’m working on that, so it should be fixed soon. And expect more new stuff because this set up is way easier for me to use and update and create with! I’m really excited. I have the best husband ever for making this for me! Thank you Michael!

I hope you all like it!

Spoonfuls of Stories

Simon & Schuster and General Mills have teamed up to create a program called “Spoonfuls of Stories” that will promote literacy! To do this they are putting full-length paperback versions of several picture books into boxes of Cheerios! I think this is a wonderful program. Both companies’ websites have information about the program. I was pleased with the list of books they have chosen as several of them are very good. I hope this program is successful and stays around for a long time!

Another Holiday Meme

Stolen from Out of Ambit.

1. What’s your favorite holiday movie?

Probably “White Christmas” because we always watched it when I was a kid and I love the music. It really makes me feel like Christmas (and I need to get my own copy of it sometime).

2. What’s your favorite holiday song (title and artist)?

My favorite holiday song is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and I really don’t care who sings it. It isn’t performed much and all the versions I’ve heard are pretty good, so I’m not picky.

3. What’s the best holiday gift you were ever given and why?

I honestly have no idea. Maybe my Kirsten doll. I loved that doll so much. I still have her and she is very special to me.

4. Do you have a special someone to kiss at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s?

Absolutely! My wonderful husband!

5. Name your favorite reindeer?

Hard to say. I always liked Donner for some reason.

6. Favorite holiday food?

Christmas frosted sugar cookies!

7. Snow day — cuddle by the fire or hand me a snowball?

Cuddle by the fire (although I would totally rather strap on skates and hit the ice instead, but that isn’t an option).

8. What was your New Year’s resolution from this year?

To get a job I liked and get married.

Did you stick to it?

Yes, I did.

9. Is there really a Santa Claus?

Yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus. Although I always liked Mrs Claus better for some reason (maybe because she put up with all that stuff).

10. Present or stocking stuffer?

Presents! Yay!

Happy Holidays everybody!

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