Monday, March 30, 2009
"History is Relatives": The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, an Illustrated Memoir by Ann Marie Fleming
Friday, March 27, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Did you know that each year thousands of twenty-first century mortals needing advice on that most vexed subject, love, write to Juliet Capulet? And send their letters off to Verona, Italy? And actually get an answer?
How is this possible, you ask? Well, it's the same kind of magic that allows the thousands of children who write to Santa in the North Pole right before Christmas to receive a reply from jolly old Saint Nick. Like Santa, Juliet has a bevy of ghostwriters who manage her correspondence. They call themselves the Juliet Club, and they are based in Verona, Italy.
Inspired by the real-life Juliet Club, Suzanne Harper has concocted a most entertaining romance revolving around a summer high-school seminar on the subject of Romeo and Juliet, whose lucky attendees get to study the Bard in Juliet's birthplace of Verona. The setting is scrumptious--lemon trees, cobbled streets, sunny mazes where one may, by happenstance, meet one's destined mate. The love story is suitably transforming ; our protagonist, Kate, loosens up a lot emotionally in one short month without losing an ounce of her savvy, and her love interest, Giacomo, evolves from a dedicated flirt to a charmingly devoted young man. The Juliet Club is set apart from other contemporary romances by the way Harper so deftly turns the study of Romeo and Juliet into the intellectual backdrop for her more modern tale. The underplayed humour throughout adds to the book's pleasures. This is a happy book that I would have gobbled down as a teen, like a luscious dessert that was actually good for you.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I don't know about anyone else out there, but there is almost nothing that irks me more than really falling in love with a book and not being able to hook my kids on it. Drives me up the freaking wall. I usually end up having to mutter under my breath that "right book for the right child at the right time" mantra that we librarians use to remind us that kids have their own taste and are in their own unique developmental space, both of which we've got to respect. However much it may floor me (I'm speaking as a parent here) that my otherwise perceptive children don't always appreciate the MASTERPIECES of literature that I expectantly offer them.
How to Heal a Broken Wing is, sadly, a case in point. I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. It's one of those perfectly executed picture books that don't just tell a story but illuminate it. The simple prose ("No one saw the bird fall. No one looked down...except Will.") is understated but direct: a bird will die unless someone helps it. And the person who open-heartedly chooses to see and to help is Will, a young boy, and his parents. With patience and gentleness, Will and his parents feed, water and house the broken bird until it is once again whole. And then they let it go.
The pictures are what really fill in the story and evoke our sympathy and joy. Will's face is so earnest throughout, and he is surrounded by rich warm colours, corresponding to his goodness of heart. (The unnoticing, uncaring grown-ups trudging past the wounded bird are all a dull grey). The smaller sequential pictures that show Will and his family caring for their new friend are full of detail and reward lingering. In certain scenes where Will is handling the bird he seem to be surrounded by a halo, like a modern, budding Saint Francis. I love how Will's whole family is so hands-on involved in the bird's healing and care, but how Will is clearly in the centre of the action. After all, it is really his empathy which has given him the eyes to see the distress of his fellow creature and the simple, childlike conviction that he must help.
However, I regret to report that this is definitely not the book to share with 5 year old boys who are currently enamoured of Rotten Ralph.
Monday, March 9, 2009
The inside of Neil Gaiman's head must be a very spooky place. Interesting, mind you. Inventive. Weirdly captivating. But haunted. What can you say about a man who turns a homage to Kipling's Jungle Book into a story about a human child raised in a graveyard by ghosts, with a werewolf and vampire acting as guardians against human predators? Gaiman's got a lush and exuberant imagination, and it seems to thrive in the twilight zone.
This is a really wonderful book. Little Bod (short for Nobody) Owens escapes the mysterious man who kills the rest of his family and he finds refuge and a new family in an abandoned local graveyard. The whole ghostly graveyard community, in fact, from Caius Pompeius, the senior inhabitant, to Liza Hempstock, the local witch, takes an interest in young Bod, his upbringing, education, and safety. Gaiman cleverly makes the graveyard seem cozy and secure, the outside world perilous (although there are some nail-biting moments around the ghoul's gate) . As Bod grows up, he is increasingly drawn to the outside world, and the dangers around him multiply.
The Graveyard Book is at heart much more of an adventure story than a horror story, and a large part of the pleasure of reading it comes from seeing Bod grow in his capacity to stand up for and protect himself. At the end, I felt a sense of loss when it becomes clear that, just as Mowgli must leave the jungle, the young man Bod has become must leave his graveyard home and take his place with others like himself. But how can a childhood like this fail to leave a mark? Bod will never be ordinary, and I hope Gaiman will treat us to more of his adventures.