Spoon by Amy Krauss Rosenthal
“All my friends have it so much better than me.” Who hasn’t sang that song at least once or twice?
This feeling of incompleteness is at the center of our story, where young Spoon is in desperate need of someone to polish his ego. The illustrator provides a glimpse of the exciting times had by the other folks that share the cutlery drawer. We’re shown forks lassoing spaghetti, chopsticks that tango among the sushi rolls with precision, and knives happily spreading jam on bread. All culinary feats never, ever achieved with a spoon.
Lucky for him, Mama Spoon is around to reassure her boy that life is indeed grand for their kind. She helps Spoon work through his envy of the other utensils by pointing out what makes him special. “Your friends will never be able to twirl around in a mug or relax in a hot cup of tea.” And she’s right, you can’t eat ice cream with a knife.
Mama Spoon ponders to her son, “I wonder if you realize just how lucky you are?” Everyone needs someone to remind them of this time to time, and Rosenthal’s Spoon aims to tell parents that their children need to be tenderly polished not unlike little Spoon.
And of course, the book doesn’t end without some spooning.
Spork by Kyo Maclear
Kids Can Press 2010
Spork stuck out. His mother a spoon, his father a fork, which made him one of a kind in the kitchen drawer they called home. He routinely gets asked, “What are you anyway?” an experience taken from multiracial author Kyo Maclear’s own life.
A sweet faced little guy. Too round for some, too pointy for others, but perfect in circumstances where nothing else would do. He’s like the kid who never gets picked at kickball. That is, until a new and very messy customer comes to the table giving Spork a chance to prove his utility.
With very similar messages and formats, it would be easy to confuse Rosenthal’s Spoon with Maclear’s Spork. Both books have style and endearing cartoonish leads, but the lovely mixed media illustrations in Spork make it my favorite to look through
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Comics, horror, noir crime, sword and sorcery, and YA lit are all brought to the fore in Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands . This collection of short essays riffs on the gamut of genre fiction, finding interesting ways to defend genre fiction and to connect it to “high” literature. Chabon brings his own insights on writing - a process often obscured by one’s experiences as a reader - as he alchemically unites diverse and disparate topics from Norse epics to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! Not just dry literary theory here, no sir.
In the essay from which the book derives its name, Chabon regales readers with a childhood tale of his family’s move to an unfinished subdivision. Rather than the typical narrative of being stifled by suburban newness and sterility, Chabon imparts a feeling of awe at such open opportunity. It is an awe that motivates him to fill a sketchy map of the subdivision with wonders, as if drawing out secrets from the air. Readers are able to vicariously feel that rush of power inherent in the creative process, one which leaves you in its afterglow wondering how you have gotten from start to finish.
Filling in the map is – to the author – part of a more general aesthetic of writing from the vantage point of exile. As he sees it, both Jews and lovers of genre fiction are vibrant communities often excluded from the mainstream of society and literature respectively. It is this position of exile which tethers Chabon to his Jewish roots and to genre fiction as a collective whole.
Other pieces are, in some ways, meditations on loss of youth and its closely-associated sense of adventure. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is characterized in such a manner. The only criticism in this laudatory essay is that the heroine of the trilogy, Lyra Belacqua, becomes a much flatter, less interesting character as she moves from unbounded agency to dutiful fulfillment of destiny. In essence, Chabon views Pullman as much greater at exploring the map of his richly developed tale than in reaching the story’s destination.
Maps and Legends is for fans of genre fiction, particularly those who do not mind blending and blurring of genre’s boundaries, or of writing about writing.
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Once a year, lovers of books for children await the announcement of the American Library Association’s youth media awards with as much anticipation as filmgoers reserve for the Oscars. I thought I would use this post to talk about a few of the winners. The complete list of this year’s winners, which were announced at the ALA midwinter convention in San Diego on January 10th, may be found here: http://ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=6048
A Sick Day for Amos McGee : written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
The Caldecott medal is given to the most distinguished American picture book for children. The author and illustrator for this year’s winner are a husband and wife team, with this being the illustrator’s first book. The story is very sweet. Amos McGee is the zoo keeper who gives his animal friends special attention every day. When he has the sniffles and doesn’t show up for work, his animal friends pay him a visit and give him some special attention. The pictures were done with woodblock prints and pencil and have an old-fashioned feel. This is an excellent choice for preschoolers and early elementary age children.
Moon Over Manifest: written by Clare Vanderpool
Amazingly, this is the author’s first book. She said she based the fictional town of Manifest on the real town of Frontenac, Kansas, home of her grandparents. Twelve-year-old Abilene, the book’s protagonist, has spent most of her young life riding the rails with her father during the Great Depression. Now her father has sent her to Manifest, a town where he spent part of his own youth, to live with his friend, Shady, a bartender/preacher. Abilene misses her father terribly, but comes to know some of the town’s colorful characters, including the newspaper woman, Hattie Mae, and the town diviner, Miss Sadie, who lives down the Path to Perdition. After Abilene finds a cigar box of old letters and mementoes, Miss Sadie helps her uncover some secrets about the town in 1918, when her father lived there. This is a wonderful read for elementary school children on up to adults.
Mildred L. Batchelder Award
A Time of Miracles : written by Anne-Laure Bondoux, translated from the French by Y. Maudet
The Batchelder award is given to a book for children published abroad in a language other than English, then subsequently translated and published in the USA. This very unusual story follows the journey of a refugee mother and son as they travel from the Caucasus to France in the early 1990s, after the break-up of the Soviet Union. It is absorbing reading for teens through adults.
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
Bink and Gollie : written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
This award is given to the best beginning reader. These two veteran authors have created a quirky pair of girls. The illustrations perfectly complement the text. This is a great choice not only for new readers, but for all of the elementary set. (Psst… Adults will be charmed too!)
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Cat Coming Home is the sixteenth in Shirley Rousseau Murphy's mystery series featuring the tail-less feline sleuth Joe Grey. If you're already a Joe Grey fan, you'll be familiar with Molina Point California and its’ denizens. This lovely seaside town seems to have a crime rate to rival Cabot Cove, but once again, Joe Grey and sidekicks Dulcie and Kit return to keep the charming tourist Mecca safe for everyone. If you haven't read any of the previous volumes, I recommend starting with the first in the series, Cat On the Edge , or the stand alone novel Catswold Portal , in which the origins of these fantastical cats is revealed. A mix of mystery and fantasy, the Joe Grey series will probably appeal to Carole Nelson Douglas fans or those who enjoy feline crime solvers gifted with the power of speech.
Cat Coming Home begins just before the Christmas holidays with Maudie Toola and her young grandson Benny arriving in Molina Point after the murder of Benny's parents. The killer has unfinished business with Maudie who may or may not know the killer's identity. When Maudie nearly becomes the victim of a hit-and-run driver, Joe and his tabby girlfriend Dulcie know they have a new mystery to unravel.
While brutal break-ins terrorize the town, the killer gets closer, ready to make the final move. With the whole town on edge, help arrives in the form of an old traveler with a message that will wrap things up just in time for Christmas. Though not as suspenseful as other books in the series, I still enjoyed revisiting Molina Point, and old friends feline and human. Cat Coming Home is a pleasant cozy for your holiday fireside reading.
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The last work I read by Zinn having been his 752-page tome A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , Zinn’s The Bomb came as a succinct, 91-page surprise. Sometimes promoted as his last book, The Bomb is a collection of two of his previously released essays brought together in August of 2010 to mark the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The essays are prefaced by an introduction explaining his happiness and relief at hearing about Hiroshima while on his way to the Pacific, after serving as a bombardier in Europe. He discussed the physical and mental distance that he felt as a bombardier from the killing and destruction that he engaged in, and compared it to the further distance that must be felt with drones and cruise missiles. This experience as a bombardier, and the descriptions that he read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki after his discharge, planted a seed for further research and, eventually, a visit to one of the towns that he took part in bombing.
The first of the essays, “Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence,” details the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More interestingly, though, it presents war-time and current research that argues that the dropping of the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary. Even more engaging was “The Bombing of Royan.” In this second essay, Zinn reflects on his own experience taking part in the unnecessary and catastrophic bombing mission to test out another new weapon and forgotten controversy – Napalm. He not only researched the experimental and political mission, but also visited the town of Royan to interview the survivors. Both of the essays succeeded in forcing me to question the long held and reinforced beliefs that I have had, both as the holder of a degree in history, and as someone with several family members who fought in the Pacific and were expected to invade Japan.
The Bomb was published as a pocket-sized book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights. Before becoming a Beat poet and a publisher, Ferlinghetti was a naval officer in WWII, and was posted to Nagasaki. "Before I was at Nagasaki, I was a good American boy. I was an Eagle Scout; I was the commander of a sub-chaser in the Normandy Invasion." “Anyone who saw Nagasaki," he wrote, "would suddenly realize that they'd been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do."
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