Book: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Mr. Popper's PenguinsMr. Popper’s Penguins
Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater
Illustrated by Robert Lawson
1938 (Little, Brown and Co.)

Mr. Popper dreams of visiting the south pole like his hero, Admiral Drake, but he never dreams that the Admiral with answer his fan letter by sending him a penguin for a pet! When Captain Cook, the penguin, arrives at the Poppers’ house there are many adjustments to be made, not the least of which is the arrival of Greta (a female penguin) to keep Captain Cook company, but everyone in the Popper household rolls with the punches remarkably well. It’s not long, however, before the penguins (twelve of them by the time Greta finishes hatching all her eggs) are eating the Poppers out of house and home. The depression is making money especially tight, even without the penguins, so with them things are nearly impossible! Something must be done! Soon the penguins are earning their keep and everything is just fine (more or less).

This is a wonderfully funny book. The story is fast paced and skips along easily from event to event, ignoring the boring bits in between when nothing in particular probably happened. The Poppers are funny and fun in their own right, but it is really the penguins who carry the humor. Their curiosity and ingenuity make for some wonderful scenarios. Occasionally the prose gets a little thick, but never for long and the pictures break up the text nicely.

I actually really love the pictures in this book. They are incredibly expressive, especially the penguins! You can kind of see it on the cover, but many of the interior illustrations are even better. There is one picture near the end where Mr. Popper has his arm covering his face like he’s crying and he’s flanked by two penguins who are obviously concerned, confused and trying to comfort him. It’s a heartbreaking picture, even when you know everything will turn out alright in the end! I just love how much personality the penguins have, especially since they never get differentiated at all. It’s incredibly impressive.

I love this book. It’s easy to see why it has remained so popular for so many years. This book is definitely a classic for a reason. If you haven’t read Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I highly recommend it. If you have, pick it up again sometime! It is just as good now as it was the first time!

Puzzles are Fun!

Number PuzzleI adore puzzles and brain teasers, so I was absolutely thrilled when Betsy from A Fuse #8 Production put up a link to a puzzle blog!  I’d never even thought of puzzle blogs!  What a cool idea!  Are there more of them?  There must be, right?  I’m going to have to go looking.  For now, I’m having a blast looking through what has been posted on Winston Breen’s puzzle blog, which is really aimed at kids, but has some great puzzles for anyone who is interested.  The author of the blog is writing a book that will be coming out in September, too.

Oh, and the puzzle at the right came from his blog.  Go visit it (link above) for instructions on how to solve it (unless you agree that five plus five equals seven).

Poetry Friday: Dancing Poem

Pointe SlippersReading On Pointe and The Phoenix Dance, which both have lots and lots of dancing in them (no shock there) has put me in the mood for dancing myself! I’m not a good dancer (I have terrible rhythm and balance), but I love watching other people do it and I love to dance around by myself when no one else can see. So today I’m celebrating dancers and their marvelous feet with this poem by William de Lancey Ellwanger.

To Jessie’s Dancing Feet

How as a spider’s web is spun
With subtle grace and art,
Do thy light footsteps, every one,
Cross and recross my heart!
Now here, now there, and to and fro,
Their winding mazes turn;
Thy fairy feet so lightly go
They seem the earth to spurn.
Yet every step leaves there behind
A something, in thy dance,
That serves to tangle up my mind
And all my soul entrance.

How, as the web the spiders spin
And wanton breezes blow,
Thy soft and filmy laces in
A swirl around thee flow!
The cobweb ‘neath thy chin that’s crossed
Remains demurely put,
While those are ever whirled and tossed
That show thy saucy foot;
That show the silver grayness of
Thy stockings’ silken sheen,
And mesh of snowy skirts above
The silver that is seen.

How, as the spider, from his web,
Dangles in light suspense,
Do thy sweet measures’ flow and ebb
Sway my enraptured sense!
Thy fluttering lace, thy dainty airs,
Thy every charming pose-
There are not more alluring snares
To bind me with than those.
Swing on! Sway on! With easy
Grace thy witching steps repeat!
The love I dare not – to thy face -
I offer at thy feet.

Go out and dance in the marvelous spring weather!

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is at Hip Writer Mama, so go check it out over there!

“I Want to Play Her”: Drow Spy

Drow of the UnderdarkI was surprised when this image caught my eye. I’m not usually fond of drow at all. I hate the mythology behind them and the way they have always been portrayed. It’s sickening and horrible. So I assumed I was going to hate this book, cover art and all, just as much. But this cover rocked. It shows a female drow (because male drow aren’t important enough in the Underdark to be on the cover) and she is very unusual! First of all, she’s standing up in a non-sexified pose. I didn’t even know evil drow women know how to do that! Then I was attracted by her outfit. It covers her whole body (again, I had no idea evil drow women wore body-covering clothing, well, ever) and is actually kind of attractive. It’s hard to see in the picture I found on the internet, but if you find a physical copy and look at it, it’s a neat outfit. It’s a really attractive gown that actually looks kind of armor like on top. I’d wear it to a meeting of evil women I didn’t trust not to try and stab me with poisoned sharp things when I wasn’t looking. She’s also holding a crossbow and looking off to her left as if on her guard for something. She’s clearly a competent woman. In a game that took place in the Underdark, I would love to play this woman. I envisioned her as a woman who is wary of everyone and aware that they don’t necessarily have her best interests at heart. Maybe she’s undercover, making it seem like she’s something she’s not. Maybe she’s not even evil, maybe she’s just pretending to be so that she can bring down the power structure from the inside. Or maybe she is, but working with a different faction? Who knows? Whatever she is, she’s not what she seems and so she’s on her guard and prepared to defend herself no matter what. I’d totally play her in a game with the right GM!

This piece of art has been added to the “I Want to Play Her” page under “Role Playing Games”.

Slice of Life Books

Maisy's PoolOn Monday I met a very nice customer who wanted more books like Maisy’s. Boring, boring books (her words, not mine). She had a one-and-a-half year old. He was adorable and evidently just loved books. The problem is, he liked books about boring, everyday things. His favorite books had less than ten words per page and read something like this:

Maisy gets in the pool.

Maisy’s friend gets in the pool.

They splash!

Sounds exciting, huh? Well, we didn’t do real well finding other things just like Maisy, but we did find a whole lot of Maisy books. The problem is, most books about boring everyday things (and there are a lot of them) have too many words for a toddler and most books for toddlers seem to be about animals or something vaguely fantastical happening (how often do hamsters take over your house?).

Then I came home and found this list of the ten most common subjects for picture books to cross editor Liz Waniewski’s desk on Oz and Ends (one of my favorite blogs). The list has been circulating the kidlitosphere this week and people have been generally saying that those are topics that too many books get published on. And I do have to agree with the point that no one really wants to read about going to the dentist. That doesn’t mean we don’t need those books, but do we really need that many?

It did make me think though, all those books are published for preschool and older kids. Why aren’t more boring books about everyday life, about getting out of bed and putting on socks and eating Cheerios, published for toddlers? There is a market for it. Look at how popular Maisy is! Yeah, she’s not great literature, but how much great literature do you really need for the under two set? That little boy isn’t going to remember he loved Maisy when he’s my age, just like I don’t actually remember loving Charlie the Cowboy. I only know I loved it because my parents still complain about having to read it a thousand times (and my father tracked down a copy to prove to me how annoying it was).

Come to think of it, Charlie isn’t a bad example of what I’m talking about. It’s kind of a look-and-find book, but the actual story is just “Charlie is a cowboy. Charlie is playing with a horse. Charlie is hiding!” It’s all typical things kids do and there are only a few words per page. Even without the look-and-find aspect, it’s a great example of boring slice-of-life for toddlers storytelling. Nothing actually happens, and that’s ok. I doubt it was fun to write, but who cares? Obviously it was loved. And obviously Maisy is loved by many, many small children.

So why don’t more people write such books? I get that it’s boring, but I’ve gotten lots of parents looking for them and it’s way harder than it should be to fill that need!  If there was variety in this area, they wouldn’t always be stuck reading Maisy’s Pool.  Sometimes they could vary it with Pete Plays Outside or Susan Eats Lunch and then maybe, just maybe, there wouldn’t be so many parents with grudges against particular books who come into my store looking for something else about boring, everyday things with less than ten words per page.  And maybe I’d have an easier time finding something for them.

Multicultural Literature

Asian Girl ReadingWhen I’m reading a book, intended for children or not, I tend to notice the gender images and whether the characters conform to the accepted stereotypes for their sex or not. I rarely notice race unless it’s the focus of the story. Grace of the Blue Rose Girls has reminded me that I should pay more attention. She’s looking for books where the main character is Asian, but the fact that he or she is Asian is not the focus of the book (preferably, it isn’t even important). She’s gotten several great suggestions, but the general consensus seems to be that such books are hard to find. That’s a shame. They shouldn’t be. There should be lots of books about all manner of things starring all manner of kids – from school stories to fantasies, new experience books to friendship stories. Why should only white kids star in books where no one even mentions what country their great-grandmother came from?

The post reminded me of an article in a recent Horn Book about Mary Sue stories written by kids. It was written by Lelac Almagor and is archived on their website. She talks about having her students (all female) write themselves into their favorite stories. It’s a regular project she does every year in her fifth-grade English classes and she has had time to notice trends. For example, they most often pick fantasy stories. What fun is it to write yourself into a school much like the one you really go to every day? Wouldn’t you rather join Harry Potter or Eragon for a while? What made me think of the article while reading Grace’s request on the Blue Rose site, however, was this observation:

And more often than not, in this project, my black, Hispanic, and Asian students’ characters develop long blonde ringlets and sparkling violet eyes. They manage to leave those clichés behind when they write historical fiction and school stories, the genres in which we find more than a handful of nonwhite writers and nonwhite protagonists. But if they want to rescue their parents or travel through time or tame dragons or lead armies or quest for love or save the world, their only choice is to write themselves into stories that are exclusively, blindingly, obliviously white. My theory is that these novels are so white that racial difference becomes impossible within them; the girls are not persuaded that they, in their own skins, could ever be Coraline’s best friend or Hermione’s long-lost cousin.

Why aren’t there more fantasies out there with black and Asian and Hispanic and generally non-white heroes? There should be, right? But can you name any? I hope so, because I can’t off the top of my head. What I did think of while I was trying was another Horn Book article! This time the article is by Deirdre F. Baker and called “Musings on Diverse Worlds” (it’s in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue and is not online, as far as I can tell). In the article Baker discusses just how white and not diverse fantasy for children tends to be, but what I remembered as I was trying to think of fantasy with non-white heroes was that she mentioned some! She discussed books that had minority heroes but cover art portraying them as white. Her primary examples of this are the Attolia series by Megan Whalen Turner, which is supposed to have dark-skinned characters inspired by the people of the Himalayas and the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin, in which Ged (the main character) is described as “dark-skinned” as well. Both show awfully white people on the covers of the books. No wonder minority kids give themselves violet eyes and golden hair when they join the stories! Even when they are the heroes, the cover artists paint them as white! It’s likely because the artist was given only a snippet or description to go on when preparing the illustration, but that doesn’t excuse it. Basic facts like skin color should be corrected before it goes to print.

And it only goes to show that we need books with minority characters as heroes to become common so that it isn’t just assumed the hero is white in the first place. Everyone should have fantasies to fly away to and should feel like they belong there as they are. I’m not saying Asian kids can’t appreciate and relate just fine to the fantasies we have, they can. It’s not just about them. They just deserve to have options. And it’s about white kids reading books with non-white heroes too. They need to see that it’s normal for non-white characters to be heroes too. It needs to become normal because it would be better for everyone. The public perception needs to change, and that won’t happen until what’s out there does.

Book: On Pointe

On PointeOn Pointe
Lorie Ann Grover
2004 (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon and Schuster)

Clare is a ballet dancer and has been training to be one pretty much all of her life. She dreams of joining City Ballet as one of the 16 corps dancers and practices as hard as she can for the auditions, but there is a problem – she’s getting too tall. Throughout this book Clare deals with her own struggle with her height interfering with her dreams and watching the struggles that her classmates go through for their dreams of being dancers. She also deals with family struggles and the challenges of coming to terms with change you weren’t expecting. It’s a great book about accepting yourself and dealing with things as they come.

This book is written in a poetry format and that works incredibly well for it. Not only does it wonderfully highlight the internal struggles Clare is going through (a mom that just doesn’t get it, life not being fair, body image consciousness, etc.), but it also gives the book an almost musical rhythm that fits in nicely with the dancing theme. After putting this book down I often felt like dancing or stretching myself and a big part of that was the effect of the free verse format! It was a great choice for Grover to make for this book.

Clare was a wonderful character. She was real and three-dimensional. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her for thinking things that were just so unhelpful, but they always made sense for her to be thinking (someone in her position really might think that way, whether I like it or not!). I liked that she was so open minded about so many things, but not so much so that it wasn’t believable. She was curious about Grandpa’s religious faith, but she couldn’t get past her belief that the adult class were losers. Grover did a good job with making her consistent, which I really appreciated.

Ballet is such an alien world to me, but Grover did a great job of making it very real and very three-dimensional, but not so foreign that I couldn’t understand it. It felt authentic without feeling alien. I don’t know how authentic it really was, but I assume she did a good job with it since she was a dancer herself! She didn’t make me wish I was a ballet dancer by any means, but she made the world very real, and that’s important.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. It was incredibly well written and the characters were wonderfully real. The emotions were raw and real. I highly recommend this book. It is a marvelous teen read and a great character study. Grover did a great job and I look forward to more from her.

Poetry Friday: Goblin Poem

Goblin WarrensI’ve been missing my weekly Dungeons and Dragons game lately (which, for reasons of real life, we have been unable to play for a few weeks now), so when my husband sent me a link to Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder blog it entertained me a little more than it probably otherwise would have. Paizo publishes Dragon and Dungeon magazines, which are both great if you play D&D and probably very boring if you don’t. I enjoy Dragon a lot and always look through Dungeon too (if only for the art). Some of my favorite art pieces from the magazines can be seen on my “I Want to Play Her” page. My favorite thing from the blog, however, was a cute little poem that the publishers wrote about the nature of goblins (who are nasty little buggers you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but make for great low-level enemies in the game). I decided to share it for poetry Friday, with credit to the Pathfinder staff, of course! (Oh, and the picture to the right is an old Magic: The Gathering card that somehow seemed to fit the spirit of the poem just right!)

The Goblin Song
Goblins chew and goblins bite,
Goblins cut and goblins fight,
Stab the dog and cut the horse,
Goblins eat and take by force!

Goblins race and goblins jump,
Goblins slash and goblins bump,
Burn the skin and mash the head,
Goblins here and you be dead!

Chase the baby, catch the pup,
Bonk the head to shut it up!
Bones be cracked, flesh be stewed,
We the goblins—you the food!

-The Pathfinder Staff

There is a round-up of today’s Poetry Friday posts and some great firefly poems for spring at Big A little a!

Like a Girl

Vassar College ResolutesIt’s getting nice outside and that always makes me think about baseball. I grew up around baseball. My family was very involved in Little League and all of the various stages of baseball leading up to it (I even managed for the team my dad coached for a few years) and we took family trips around the country, stopping to see ballgames along the way. Even though I haven’t always appreciated every nuance of the game, baseball is a big part of summer for me.

So I was excited when the baseball displays went up at work and eagerly looked at all the new books about my favorite summer sport. Some of them look really interesting while others… not so much. One particularly caught my interest because it talked extensively about a game I remembered hearing about as a kid (despite it being having happened almost 100 years ago). I spent some time flipping through the book, and then flipped to the back to the author blurb. It was written by a woman, which is cool, but the blurb stated that “she does not throw like a girl”.

I hate the phrase “like a girl”. Obviously, usually it’s said in regards to throwing or hitting or something and often comes up regarding baseball, but it comes up with other things too. Why is doing something “like a girl” so bad? And what does that even mean? Nobody says “you throw like a boy”, even as a compliment. The best you can get is “you don’t throw like a girl”, which is a backhanded compliment at best. It just bugs me because it gets back to the whole “boys are better than girls” thing.

Girls should be able to go just as far as boys do, but they can’t when it comes to sports. Baseball especially has little to offer girls Little League. No matter how talented a girl is at baseball, there are only so many levels of play for her to go through before she simply runs out of options. We have professional hockey and basketball for women now, so why not baseball? But it’s not likely to happen because not even high school girls get to play baseball. They get stuck with softball, which isn’t at all the same thing. There just aren’t a whole lot of options for girls who want to play hardball. Historically there have been more options, but right now, there just doesn’t seem to be much there.

That little phrase, “she does not throw like a girl”, had two results (besides this blog post). It made me decide to definitely not read the book (which I had been unsure about before), and it made me run a search in the database for “girls baseball”, which gave me a list of interesting sounding books to check out! A few I have already read (and some have been reviewed here already), but quite a few were new to me and sounded fascinating, so now I have a new reading list to pursue for the hot summer months!

Movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsThis movie is from the “Faerie Tale Theatre” series and was produced in 1983. I enjoyed Vincent Price as the mirror (his silent facial expressions at the queen were great), but the queen was more creepy than beautiful. It seems like the tendency with “Snow White” is to make the queen revolting, but she really is supposed to be beautiful! She’s absolutely insane, but she’s supposed to be incredibly beautiful! Why did they make Vanessa Redgrave look like a complete freak? Her hair was everywhere and her costumes were incredibly unflattering. Snow White was cute, but they seemed to be going for a very little girlish look. Her costume looked strange on the grown-up Elizabeth McGovern when it was clearly designed for a child. So the costuming, at least on the women’s side, was a little weird in this one. The acting of the dwarfs was great, though. They and Price were the only ones who didn’t sound stilted and like they were reading from a script at any point. They also rarely overacted when it wasn’t really necessary. The queen overacted a lot. I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the acting in this one.

The story mangled the fairy tale a little bit, but seemed to be trying to keep the spirit of it. They had the queen give Snow White a ribbon and wrap it around her neck to kill her, rather than her waist (how would she come back from that, exactly?). They skipped the comb altogether, but kept the apple as expected, with them sharing it and everything. The queen was punished by never being able to see herself in a mirror again, all her mirrors turned black. This seemed fairly appropriate and easier to film and more tv-friendly than her classic punishment, so I actually liked the change. The one change I found very strange, however, was that Snow White did not wake up when the prince kissed her. She woke up when the dwarfs dropped her coffin, thus jarring the apple from her mouth. This may make more technical sense, but it’s very different from the “true love’s kiss” of the fairy tale. It’s less magical and romantic. It also made her sudden acceptance of a marriage proposal from some guy she’s never met until this moment seem really strange. Without the magic, why is she suddenly agreeing to marry some strange guy with a guitar? The dwarfs weren’t that bad!

In general, I enjoyed this movie. I wasn’t wildly impressed with it, but it was entertaining to watch.

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