October 30, 2005

Ken is Trying to Win Back Barbie

Remember a year and a half ago or so when Barbie and Ken split up? It was big news. Well, Barbie's new crush (I think his name was Blaine or something) is apparently not working out that well. At least, that's my assumption, since Ken has decided to win back Barbie. He's consulting with the hottest style gurus in Hollywood, according to his personal manager and publicist. He's considering a style make-over so that his style will be more variable and exciting. He's even considering eyelid surgery to try and remedy his lack of blinking (he hasn't blinked in like fourty years). I guess he thinks that a new look will make him appealing to Barbie again. I hope it works out for him! I never liked Blaine (what kind of a name is Blaine anyway? and can't she find a boyfriend with a better ambition that being a surfer dude?).

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October 26, 2005

Favorite Publisher: Barefoot Books

I was reminded tonight as I looked through the Barefoot Books catalog that they are totally my favorite children's book publisher. The publish intersting books on a wide variety of topics. Many of their books (probably over half) are folk tales, legends and myths from various cultures around the world. The books almost always have absolutely stunning illustrations. On of my favorite books of theirs is The Seven Wise Princesss by Wafa Tarnowska has beautiful illustrations by Nilesh Mistry. I'm just so pleased with the quality and variety of their books. A link to their website has been added to the Book Links page.

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New Book Lists!

I completely re-did the Book Lists page. I've moved the actual lists on to their own pages and alphabatised the books in each list by author. A few lists, like Asian Stories and Fairy Tales Retold are broken down into sub-categories on their list page. There are some great new lists and they are growing every day. A few lists only have one or two books, but I'm still adding all the time. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

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October 22, 2005

"WholesomeWear"

Apparently, bathing suits are immodest. Ok, I'll buy that in a general sense. Since we see tiny bikinis on girls from age 3 to 60 at this point, I can see the arguement. But if you go to an average pool you will see most of the women and girls there in fairly decent bathing suits (in my experience, anyway). But evidently, that's not quite good enough. So now we can wear WholesomeWear. The website is awful and they currently only make swimwear.

Now, I don't really have any major problem with the existance of this type of swimwear (although I can't honestly see the point and think their thing about drawing the eye to the face is total crap since if I saw someone wearing one of these I'd notice the strange suit long before the face of the woman wearing it), but something about the concept creeps me out. Maybe it's the obvious likness to swimwear from the Victorian era. Maybe it's the lack of WholesomeWear for men (are men exempt from modesty?). Maybe it's just the implied shame in the human body. I don't know.

Maybe I'm just bothered by the complete lack of information about the company on their website or the fact that their swimsuits are all 40% off (or more) right now. Something about it just gives me the creeps.

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October 21, 2005

Subjects in School

Ok, I don't usually get mad when I read articles from school papers that really have no hope of accomplishing anything but expressing some random student's opinion, but this one actually did piss me off. Ok, first of all, Miss Stacey Perk doesn't get off to a good start by talking about how great high school was with parties and football games. Um... most people don't remember high school as being great for those things (or if they do, it's in a "childhood is a perfect time of innocence" kind of way). But that isn't really the point. She quickly gets beyond that to what she really wants to do - which is whine about having to learn things.

Ok, I agree that college students have to take too many random classes that are totally unrelated to their major at most liberal arts colleges (which is most colleges these days). However, I don't believe that standard applies to high school so much (sorry, Math should totally be a required subject in high school). And saying that most people will never use those skills again when they are out in the real world is totally clueless! First of all, you are a junior in college! You aren't in the real world yet! Hell, I'm 24, out of college and barely consider myself to be in the real world! Second of all, your examples are kinda clueless. Math and history, in particular are going to be used a lot by most people, even if they don't always realize it. Even chemistry is important! I agree that you probably aren't likely to pull out that periodic table again, but that doesn't mean that basic chemistry isn't important.

Ok, math is probably the most obvious one. You use it everywhere. It's important for cooking, shopping, paying bills, doing laundry, making a phone call, driving a car, even clocking in at work! And not all of that is basic arithmetic. You use algebra every day without even thinking about it! Most people won't use advenced calculus on an average day, but algebra is really important.

The biggest thing I use chemistry for on an average day is cooking, even just basic stuff. When you decide to put salt on something, you are making a decision based on chemistry, even if you don't realize it. Makeup and hair products and knowing which ones to choose is all about chemistry!

History is important for everything. It's important for evaluating news stories, opinions about all manner of topics and making decisions about everything from what store to shop from (do they support unions? why is that important?) to choosing who to vote for!

Miss Perk wants to be a journalist. Well, clearly that's different. She will never need math... except when making deadlines and thinking about the space an article needs to fit in and... ok, she probably needs somr math. But chemistry will never be important... unless a story she is writing about has any basis in chemistry (a story about food, medicine, scientific discovery, etc.)... ok, but that doesn't happen often, right? But history will prove totally useless to her, right? I mean, why would she want to know what happened in the past that led up to what she is writing about today? Why would she want to know how to look up what other people have said in the past or how other reporters covered a subject? She'll certainly never need to do any fact checking.

She spends some time discussing how all those "useless" classes presented a hardship to her by dragging down her GPA because she never went to class or did her homework for them. Well, maybe some math would have shown her in advance how blowing off a class and getting a low grade in it would affect her GPA.

I'm sorry Stacey, but I read magazines like "Glamour" all the time (I work in a bookstore, how else do you kill a fifteen minute break?) and they are full of math and history and chemestry. Statistics are in nearly every article. As a journalist, I think you will find that a wide understanding of other subjects might be useful. Knowing about the inverted pyramid will help you with mechanics, but no one reads an article because of the mechanics, they read it for the content. And if when I read your article I get the impression that you don't really understand what you are writing about, even though the subject is interesting, I'm going to go find a better article on the subject.

So maybe those subjects are a little more important than you thought.

Sorry for the rant, but poorly written and thought out articles like this one really annoy me, especially when written by someone who isn't even in a position to make a value judgement that means anything on what they are expressing value judgements about! I wouldn't want a single man with no kids writing about the hardships of motherhood either. At least not without some damn good sources who do understand it! There is no excuse for articles like this one and even though it's just a student paper, The Daily Iowan should have higher standards for what they publish.

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October 19, 2005

Book: The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha

The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha
Lloyd Alexander
1978

This is an interesting fantasy from Alexander. It is about a boy who lets a street magician perform a trick on him that transports him to a far away and possibly not real country where he is lauded as king for arriving in the right place at the right time. He then dives head first into the deep end of the political and military issues concerning the country, surprising himself as much as anyone else. What results is political intrigue, attempted assassination, war and wild adventure. The story is funny and rather sad at the same time.

As always, Alexander’s writing and story construction is superb. The book was enjoyable to read, even when the plot got a little slow. The story is very interesting, particularly in it’s rather novel technique for getting the kid to the “dream” realm. The use of the untrustworthy street magician and the uncertainty about the permanence or transience of the new realm are particularly interesting. The idea that Lukas-Kasha may end up king of this far off kingdom forever, or might get pulled out any minute (and if he is pulled out, it is unclear if he will return home or find himself in another new place entirely) adds a dimension to the story that is never very far from the surface of the reader’s thoughts.

The plot is interesting and generally more politically driven (in the story sense, not the relating-to-the-real-world sense) than his fantasy stories usually are. I really liked that the story was driven almost exclusively by character development. That is a choice few writers of children’s books make and Alexander shows how good a story of this type can be. I really liked the way he ended the book, which at that point did surprise me in a way, but it also made me very sad. I couldn’t help feeling really bad for Lukas.

This is a fun book. It isn’t my favourite of Alexander’s books, but it is unique and interesting. I would definitely recommend it!

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Book: Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer

Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer
J. T. Petty
Illustrated by Will Davis
2005

This is a very slim little book, but it’s a lot of fun! It tells the story of a girl who remembers the line from Peter Pan about how a fairy dies every time someone says “I don’t believe in fairies” as she is getting attacked by the Fairy of Frequent and Painful Pointless Antagonism. So she says it until the fairy falls dead (seven times), at which point a hobgoblin shows up and accuses her of murdering seven fairies, some of whom were actually good. So the girl travels around the world with the hobgoblin to fix the damage that she caused by killing the fairies (and yes, she could just clap her hands a lot and say “I do believe in fairies, I do, I do”, but then the Fairy of Frequent and Painful Pointless Antagonism would come back to life right in front of her and angry). The journey is very funny and the solutions that the girl comes up with are very entertaining.

The writing is very good and incredibly funny. This writer has a wonderful style, which is very impressive since this is his first book. The book is peppered with great phrases like “dropped dead as a gossamer-winged doorknob” and the level of language craft is extremely high throughout the book. That said, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the story, which is why the book is so short. I really didn’t think that hurt the book, though, since it was a blast to read. Not every book needs to be deep. The main character (Clemency Pogue) and the hobgoblin are wonderfully drawn. Besides, how can a book that advertises itself as doing “for burlap pants what holes have done for Swiss cheese” be anything but pure fun?

The illustrations are perfect for the book. They are black and white, mostly full-page pictures of scenes from the book. The style is a believable cartoonishness that resembles the illustrations of Tony DiTerlizzi in the Spiderwick Chronicles. I loved the picture of the little boy pretending to be a dog, chewing on pillows and jumping on the bed. The scenes illustrated are well chosen and generally properly placed, which is much appreciated and not common enough in books.

This book is great. It’s light reading and will take maybe an hour to read, but it’s well worth it! I very much look forward to more books from this author!

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Second American Girl Movie: Felicity

Last November saw the premiere of the first movie based on one of the American Girl stories with Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. It was actually pretty well done. This year brings another of the girls to the screen with Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, which is set to air on the WB on November 29. I am more excited about this one than I was about Samantha's movie. My favorite of the girls was always Kirsten (the Swedish imigrant girl who lived on a farm in Minnesota), but Felicity was a close second. I have a Felicity doll and just adore her clothes. I loved her story because of all the girls Felicity was probably the most rebellious. She wore pants to ride a horse in secret and she wasn't exactly the proper young lady, even when she tried. She went barefoot, let her petticoats fly in the wind, and deliberately forgot her hat when going out in the sun (thereby bringing out all of her freckles) all in colonial Virginia when such things were scandalous. So I look forward to seeing her movie! I hope it does the books justice!

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Mirrormask to open in Madison!

Mirrormask, a movie based on the book of the same title by Neil Gaiman, is set to open in Madison on Friday, October 21 (two days from now) at Marcus Westgate Art Cinemas! I've been really wanting to see this movie. It's gotten great reviews, the author actually likes it and felt it represented his vision well, and it looks really really amazing in all the previews. The book is really cool. I haven't gotten to read it completely yet, but I have scanned through it some at work. It just looks so neat! A co-worker of mine commented that it would have been nice if the book had been bigger, like some of Gaiman's picture books, and I agree. I understand why they decided to do it this way (at least, the most likely reasons), but I generally think putting marketing reasons ahead of design choices in cases like this is stupid and short-changes the work and the author. Oh well. At least I get to see the shiny shiny movie! I'm really excited! Yay!

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Encyclopedia Brown in Hollywood?

The New York Times had an article yesterday about the movie rights to the Encyclopedia Brown series being sold. Apparently the author really really doesn't want a movie made of his creation, but he doesn't have much say until the movie rights revert back to him.

Regardless of the rights issues, I find the idea of a movie of Encyclopedia Brown kind of interesting. Generally I'm sceptical of movie versions of books that I like, but I actually think that in the right hands this series could make a great movie! The stories are episodic, so there is no risk of deep overarching plot being abreviated, altered or otherwise tweaked. The characters are simple and have managed to stay largely the same over the years. And since the main character is a boy, the risk of him being trivialized or made to be anything like the what movie studios think will be popular (that disgrace is usually left to female characters like Nancy Drew).

I think that the movie could easily suck too, but it certainly has potential for a good movie! Too bad the author doesn't think so. I do believe the author's wishes should be respected, so even though I think it could be a good movie, I will be sad if they make it over his strenuous objections. Oh well.

Posted by Katie at 02:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 16, 2005

Comic Book Stores and Women

Ok, every month or two an article or other piece comes to my attention about why women don't buy/read comic books very often and almost never visit comic book stores. Usually these articles piss me off. The primary reason is usually the author and their attitude to the subject. Typically the writers of these articles (and there are several exceptions, just wait for it before you argue with me) fall into one of two categories. The first category is men who absolutely can't fathom why women wouldn't want to hang out in comic shops and read comics. The writers in this category that most annoy me tend to see women as a seperate species who are rather mysterious (cue spooky music) and need some kind of special stories/art/environment for a comic to be readable to them. They also often are the people who seem most clueless as to what to do if a woman *did* show up in a comic shop where they worked or shopped. The second category is made up of women who just don't get it. They are the type of women the first category thinks all women are. They are scared of comic book shops and "comic guys" and they tend to want stories that are basically "chick lit" or romances with pictures. These women might read "Strangers in Paradise", but give little else much of a chance. And they write wanting to know why the industry is so scary and why there aren't more books out there for them. Neither group is, in my opinion, the right group of people to be investigating the topic.

So, now that I have largely explained why these articles usually annoy me, I want to talk about the article I read today that I actually liked a lot. Comic Book Resources presented a feature this week called "Girl in the Clubhouse" that appeares to be intended as a regular feature (I will be interested to read future pieces). This first piece was written by Johanna Stokes, who is a comic book writer (primarily of a comic about zombies) and it is called How to Get Girls Into Your Comic Shops. She actually did some investigating before writing the piece. She obviously knows about comics, not only from a writer standpoint but also as a reader, and she obviously enjoys them. Those are important things. It's hard to judge the responses one gets to questions in this type of situation without knowing about the topic already. Anyway, she went into various comic shops and asked for advice on what she should read as a woman new to comics. She wanted not only female-friendly books, but also generally good newbie.

Obviously, there was a range in the responses she got. She gives two specific anecdotes about two different experiences, one wonderful and the other dreadful. They are very revealing. She also discusses some of the typical features of a comic book shop that scare newbies, especially women, and things that could be done to remedy the situation. Some of the things are obvious. Dark windows and lighting so low that it makes reading hard is not only scary but also frustrating. If you are trying to find your way through the huge amount of stuff in the comics world without much experience, you need to be able to get through the door and read the titles. She also points out that life-size statues of Spiderman are freaky and it's unnatural how many comic shops have them.

I think the biggest thing that came out of the article that made me happy with it was the clear statement that it isn't that they are women that is the hard part, it's that they are new customers and the comic book industry is one that is very very hard on new customers. I should be able to walk into a comic shop and say "what would you recommend?" and after some discussion of my preferences get some good suggestions. Hopefully some I've never heard of. That isn't something that only happens with women, it's something that happens with newbies. The other point that I liked (and don't see often enough) is that comic shops often feel like clubhouses with "No Girls Allowed" signs on the door. It's like, if you aren't male and over the age of 10 you aren't really supposed to be there. Well, why the hell not? I have money and interest, why shouldn't I be there? And why shouldn't I bring my child/niece/nephew/friend's kid/etc. with me? I should be able to say to a clerk "I need a good comic for a 7 year old, what would you suggest?" and get more than "Transformers" as a response. But all too often that isn't the case. Comics often feels like a boys only club when it really shouldn't. I know lots of women who read comics! I know more about the DC universe than most of the men I know! Why do I feel out of place in some comic shops? And why are the men who come into the bookstore where I work (not a great place to buy anything other than Spiderman and Batman, by the way) so reluctant to ask me about comics or listen to my advice when they do? I wouldn't answer the question if I didn't know what I was talking about, I would ask the computer or call someone else over.

Now, the local comic shop that I go to when I need to visit a comic shop is great. The owner is friendly and more than happy to answer questions and give suggestions. And there are lights, although not a window you can see in through. However, that shop is a rarity in my experience. Gaming has largely opened up to women in many ways (although it still has some way to go - I don't always want to be the healer/dancer/babysitter), but somehow comics has largely missed the boat on that one. It's getting better, certainly, with highter attendence of women at comic conventions and such, but it still often feels like a boys only club that sometimes lets a few girls through the door to be mostly ignored. I hope that changes!

Johanna Stokes's article is wonderful and I highly recommend it. Her suggestions of book clubs, window displays and kids' corners are spot on. I hope very much to see future articles in this series that are just as good covering related topics. I encourage you to read the article (especially if you managed to get all the way through my rant here about it!), it is well researched and extremely well written by a very intelligent and perceptive woman. I hope to read more from her sometime soon!

*Update: Viv has posted some interesting thoughts on her blog about this topic.*

Posted by Katie at 11:50 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 02, 2005

Thoughts on Movies, Books and Analysis

Michael and I spent some time tonight talking about movies. I’m not going to go into the discussion itself, but it did get me thinking. Michael sees movies as essentially meaningless entertainment. I see movies as books with moving pictures. His comments made me wonder why I feel this way about movies (and television shows, for that matter).

Why shouldn’t we look at movies the way we look at books? In some ways, it almost seems like we should hold movies more accountable than books for their quality and content. A book has maybe twelve people who really actually do any real work the content and presentation of it (authors, editors, designers, etc.). A movie, however, has closer to a hundred - fifty if you want to really be picky about who makes important input (directors, writers, actors, designers, etc.). Movies have hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on them. It’s not even remotely uncommon these days for a movie to have cost millions of dollars, even before you factor in marketing costs. A book doesn’t cost nearly that much, and the majority of the cost goes into volume rather than actual design and content. So more people’s time and energy and more money went into most movies than most books.

I am absolutely not trying to lessen the importance of books here. There is something wonderfully pure in a single writers ideas being the entire substance of the finished product. But why is a compilation of ideas and talents seen as less? If so many people work on it, aren’t you going to see that many more people’s ideas in the finished product? And shouldn’t you be able to ask a lot in quality when so many people had to be pleased for the product to be completed successfully?

Books and movies have different tools to work with. Movies have real people with real faces for the audience to see, while books can be vague and allow the reader to paint the character any way that speaks to them. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. Movies have music to guide or follow the action so that the audience is drawn in more, but books can use the music of words in narrative forms movies can’t really use and books can give us the thoughts of a character without the distractions of disembodied voices. Again, both have advantages and disadvantages. Both can help or hinder the telling of a story or conveying of a message. Who is to say one way is a higher or purer art form than the other? Or that one is more worthy of analysis?

I know that many movies (probably most big blockbusters today) are driven primarily by the corporation’s desire to make money, no matter the quality of the product. But seriously, books have that problem too these days. Do you have any idea how many books sell just because they have the name “John Grisham” on them? Or how many books are published so the company can put out more books? That’s pretty much the whole reason big series lines like “Dragonlance” and “Madison Finn” exist! There are some high quality things that come out of that, like Nancy Drew or some of Disney’s really great movies (“Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King”). So if great things can come out of it, why should we not examine them as genuine “literature”? Movies have almost become a bigger way of spreading an idea than books have! Just look at something like Michael Moore’s movies. They make huge impacts in the way people think about issues that no book, even bestsellers, can hope to do. How many Michael Moore movies can you name? How many have you seen? Now how many “current issues” books can you name? How many have you read? Even for me those numbers are scarily close (and I think I’ve only seen one Michael Moore movie).

So why shouldn’t we “read” movies as closely as we read books? Why isn’t criticism of movies as ok as criticism of books? Why aren’t the messages, even (or perhaps especially) subliminal messages, in movies worth discussing? Why can’t I complain that the inconsistencies in a movie I just saw bugged me, even if the acting and environment and general world were great? Isn’t a movie just as valid a form of conveying information and ideas and opinions and creative creations as a book is? Sure, a novel or something will take up more of the audience’s time, but so what? It’s just a different way of conveying information.

A movie has to make its message tighter and clearer than a book because it only has it’s audience’s attention for the two hours or so they are in the theatre. It’s just a different way of telling a story. Picture books take less of the audience’s time than movies, but they are valid targets of all kinds of analysis (there were no black people, why? the women were all passive and pathetic, why? the colours were great and really conveyed the feelings of anger in the character, etc.) So why shouldn’t I talk about the colours and language and stereotypes and inconsistencies in details in movies? I just don’t understand.

I don’t really understand how someone can watch a movie and not think about those things, and I think that’s my biggest problem here. I just can’t imagine thinking about it any other way. I can imagine seeing other things and coming to different conclusions, but those still involve thinking analytically about movies. For me, movies and books are just different ways of telling stories. Why should I not read into one just because it isn’t a form of storytelling that has been around for centuries? I honestly can’t see that movies are any more or less corrupt in terms of artistic integrity than books are right now. So why the difference?

I don’t think that Michael is ever really going to see movies the way that I do, but I kind of like that. It means he sees different things that I would have missed if he weren’t there to point them out. That’s part of what I like about seeing movies and reading books that other people have also experienced. Everyone sees something different, and no way is wrong. I love hearing other opinions even if I disagree (as long as they are expressed as opinions and not flat statements – but that’s a whole other discussion). I would be very sad to lose that. Analysis in a bubble doesn’t work, and like it or not we all analyse in our own little bubbles until other people give us input. While that’s not bad, the input from other sources makes the analysis not only more rich, but also perhaps more valid to more people, and thus more interesting.

Or I could be totally on crack here. Who knows.

Posted by Katie at 03:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

New List and some Additions

There is one new list today and additions to four old lists. The new list is fairy tales told in new ways or with a twist. Some of them are novels and some are picture books, and not all are children's books. I have read most of the books currently on the list, but not all. And I didn't like them all. Any that I have a review up for will have a link to the review soon. As always, suggestions are welcome!

Books with no words

Noah's Ark by Peter Spier

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Books about World War II

Remember World War II: Kids Who Survived Tell Their Stories by Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson

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Books with alliteration

A Spirited Alphabet: From A to Z by Morgan Simone Daleo, illustrated by Frank Riccio

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Books About Pumpkins

Spookley's Colorful Pumpkin Patch by Joe Troiano

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Fairy Tales Retold in New and Different Ways

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Fairy's Mistake by Gail Carson Levine
The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine
Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep by Gail Carson Levine
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill by Gail Carson Levine
For Biddle's Sake by Gail Carson Levine
The Fairy's Return by Gail Carson Levine
Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl
Snow by Tracy Lynn
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Adelita by Tomie de Paola
Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by David Catrow
Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen
The Princess School Series by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens\
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Beast by Donna Jo Napoli
Cinderella's Dress by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Jane Dyer
Barbie as Rapunzel by Cliff Ruby and Elana Lasser, illustrated by Rob Sauber
Lon Po Po by Ed Young
Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller

Posted by Katie at 12:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 01, 2005

Links Added to Lists!

All of the books on the Book Lists page are now linked! Yay!

Posted by Katie at 12:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack