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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Here Lies Arthur

Here Lies Arthur

Author: Philip Reeve
Reading Level: 5th to 8th grade

Pages: 352
Publisher: Scholastic
Edition:Hardcover, 2008

This is a book for the Arthurian Legends enthusiasts, and I happen to be one. Having read many re-imagined Arthurian tales, I was completely delighted by this fresh take on the “true story” behind the legends. Reeve’s conceit is a fabulous one: it is all about the power of stories, storytelling, and story tellers. The title alone is worthy of much examination, with its double meanings of "lying dead" and "telling lies."

At the beginning, I was perplexed by the switches between past tense and present tenses. Slowly, I realized the why and when of such passages. This is a meta-fiction in a slightly different form and it really works for me.

I imagine that, though, this might not be as much fun for some others. If you don’t find piecing together pieces of a complex story puzzle (who’s who and which event eventually “became” which well known tale,) then, you won’t be having as much fun as I do. If you are not usually a sucker for stories that “discuss” the underlying philosophical elements of story-telling or humans’ needs for such elaboration, then, you probably won’t like this book as much as I do. And if you are not totally loving the meta-fiction genre, then you definitely will not enjoy it as I do. Also, if you only want a story with magic and valor, (that’s what I expected, before reading the actual text) then, you definitely will be disappointed. This is one Arthurian tale, featuring heavily the prototype character or Merlin (Myrddin) that definitely has NO magic whatsoever!

What’s even more impressive with this tale is Reeve’s ability to actually tell a cohesive story, with a highly believable and admirable main character, set against a convincing backdrop. (Although one might say that the language of the telling is fairly contemporary 21st century, it is to be excused because the teller could be anyone in any time – everything is apparently made-up anyway.)

To say that I am highly impressed is to put it lightly. I hope many others (especially middle school readers) will find this an intelligent and satisfying read!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond

Christo and Jeanne Claude: Through the Gates and BeyondAuthor: Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Reading Level: 4th to 6th grade

Pages: 50
Publisher: Roaring Brook/Neal Porter
Edition: Har
dcover, 2008

I am speechless and teary-eyed, reading and having finished reading this thrilling little biography of Christo and Jeanne Claude and of their art. Greenberg and Jordan did not disappoint -- as always, their words are as vivacious and artistic as the artists they chronicle. One cannot help but being completely infected by the passion from all of those involved: the artists and the biographers.

And to this one, since it is something I deeply experienced, with friends, students, and family, my emotional reaction is even stronger. Between me and my husband, we took about 500 photos -- both under a bright blue sky and in the snow, with the gates winding around and the fabric flapping wildly in the wind. In fact, when it was time for my then-kindergarten daughter to do her "hundred day" project, she chose to draw a tree with branches and then glue 100 miniature pictures from our collection as leaves -- a Fall Tree, as she called it, because these were orange leaves. The artwork is still hung next to my desk at work.

(Hmm... I was slightly perturbed why there have not been more pictures of the Gates in this book, especially of the Gates when they were "in action and in motion"?)

The meticulous and artistic design of the book itself also echoes the free and playful spirit of Christo and Jeanne Claude. I applaud all who worked on this book! Thank you for a precious gift.

And I simply cannot help but posting a couple of the snowy pictures (the blue sky ones are on a DVD somewhere else...) -- to commemorate a fabulous time in New York City:

And of course, my friend Monica Edinger had her class document the process on a web page. Go HERE to see!

And here's a link to many more Central Park Gates Pictures by searching google images of simple: Central Park Gates.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears

Little Mouse's Big Book of FearsAuthor: Emily Gravett
Reading Level: K to 4

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is a fantastic offer from a truly creative mind, and I believe also, from a team of designers and editors who put in so much in carrying out all the ideas: from the nibbled cover and pages, to the flip-the-flap effects, to the completely black page (yes, I was fooled in thinking, 'huh? this is the end of the book? No way...' and found out, to my great delight, that there is still half of the book to go and plenty more of information to come!) And of course, Gravett's talent in illustration is unparalleled! I just love that pencil, getting gnawed to a stub bit by bit.

It will appeal to those children who love words and love to collect the names of so many phobias. It will appeal to those children who love poring over pages with extra words and details quite a few times over. It will appeal to those who enjoy visual jokes ("I worry about having accidents." page has Little Mouse ... um... accidentally leaves something on the bottom of the page... -- opposing the picture of a toilet.)

I love the page where all the feathers "have eyes" and "sharp teeth." I love the page with the newspaper clipping about the farmer's wife and the three mouse tails. I love the page with the fold-out map of the Isle of Fright. Actually.. I think I simply love all the pages, each for a different reason.

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That Book Woman

That Book WomanAuthor: Heather Henson, illus. by David Small
Reading Level: K - 2

Publisher: Atheneum
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

Even though I knew from page 2 that this is a little story on the power of books and libraries, and that this young boy narrator will become a reader in the end, I did not feel disappointed when all the prediction came true. This is due to the artistry of both the author and the illustrator. Henson's text is folksy and true, with a wonderful lilting pace, while Small's illustrations are gentle but at the same time with a quiet but majestic integrity. Of course, being a librarian, I am completely won over. (Just so you know, I am usually very suspicious of books glorifying Library Services and Librarians -- oftentimes, I find those "books and reading are GREAT stories" corny and cringe-inducing.) I hope that others who are not in our profession will also find this fact-based story completely winning.

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