Chloe and the Lion is not about a young girl facing off with a ferocious feline, no matter what the title says. Sure, Chloe's present, saving up her nickels and dimes to ride the merry-go-round. She does, in fact, spin around that ride so many times that she gets dizzy and lost in the nearby woods. It is at that very point that Chloe should meet a lion. Instead, a large, ferocious, winged, burgundy dragon steps out.
Writing a picture book is hard work. You must have a solid story, likable characters, and the right choice of words. What's more, this delicate balance can be completely thrown out of whack by a maverick illustrator who thinks that "a dragon would be cooler."
Some recent R&R with too many cold and rainy days left me plenty of time for pleasure reading. No, unlike most of America, I wasn’t reading Fifty Shades of Grey, but much tamer pursuits and with young adult appeal.
Author Melina Marchetta is a master of making even the most unlikeable characters endearing and “Froi of the Exiles” is no exception. Before he attacked the woman who is his Queen, Froi only knew the horrors and abuse of the streets. Now, as her most trusted and loyal servant, and most lethal weapon, Froi is the obvious choice when she needs an assassin. His disguise puts him in close proximity to a seemingly mad princess burdened with the hope of her kingdom, who sometimes calls herself Quintana and at others, Reginita. Froi admires her ability to provide much needed emotional self-preservation and decides to teach her the skills she needs for physical protection as well. When she puts her new talents to use, she, Froi and the ragtag group of misfits he’s collected, including an embattled architect and a drunken monk, flee the palace seeking refuge. I recommend this for older teens because of the frequently dark subject matter, but there is a dry humor and banter that made me laugh out loud despite its seriousness. Deliciously complex, its biggest fault is that at over 600 pages it’s heavy!
A good friend headed off to a new life last week. I am thrilled with the happy events that led her to these new adventures, but miss her terribly. I hadn’t expected it to be so hard considering I’m, well, let’s just say of an age when I have experienced my share of changes. It’s renewed my sympathy for any younger person facing a move, either his own or a friend’s. Luckily there are some wonderful children’s books that can serve as a discussion starter or maybe just as a way to validate their feelings. I know I appreciated living vicariously through the petulance of the characters in the first two books!
The title says it all in “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move” by Judith Viorst. Alexander is age appropriately melodramatic about his impending move. According to him, he’ll never again have a best friend like Paul or a great sitter like Rachel. The new cleaners won’t save anything they find in his pockets even if it’s gum wrappers or an old tooth. Anything is preferable to moving, even living in the weeds next to his friend’s house and getting poison ivy. His understanding parents reassure him that he will find boys his age and a new sitter. His brother tells Alexander that he can sleep in his room if he gets lonesome. Slightly persuaded, Alexander decides that although he still doesn’t like it, he’ll pack He does have one caveat: this is the last time (Do you hear me? I mean it) he’s going to move!
In Train Dreams, Denis Johnson constructs a melancholy portrait of the U.S. frontier. Instead of focusing on the raw potential and opportunity most associate with the Western expansion, Johnson elucidates the isolation and stasis involved in “taming” a wild place. Johnson artfully constructs a non-linear account of Robert Grainier’s life on the frontier. Through Grainier’s perspective, we witness the rapid transformation of America – from railroad construction to the proliferation of sleek highways; from influenza epidemics to a random encounter with Elvis Presley. Despite the changes going on around him, Grainier remains a lonely outsider, observing the world’s expedited evolution from a distance.
Fittingly, Grainier’s first memory is of an iconic symbol of movement and progress: a train. As a child, he was sent to Idaho on the Great Northern Railroad to live with his cousins. The experience of locomotion erased all memory of his origins, leaving him with a vague and malleable sense of self: “The whole adventure made him forget things as soon as they happened, and he very soon misplaced this earliest part of his life entirely.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
Bitterblue takes place eight years after the end of Kristin Cashore’s earlier novel, Graceling. At the end of that book, ten-year-old Princess Bitterblue became Queen of Monsea upon the death of her father, the vicious psychopath, King Leck. Bitterblue is still trying to help her country recover from the trauma of her father’s 35-year reign of terror. Leck held the kingdom in thrall by controlling people’s thoughts, changing their memories so they always believed he was a kind and caring ruler while he really terrorized the citizens. Because of her youth, Bitterblue has relied heavily on her advisors who promote what they call a forward-thinking agenda. They urge her to pardon everyone for any crimes committed during Leck’s reign and encourage everyone to simply forget that anything bad happened.
Something I get asked a lot as the librarian tech guy is whether a person in the market for a new smartphone or tablet should buy Apple or Android. This is a far more nuanced question than most people realize, and the answer will depend on a number of factors. Read on for a detailed comparison of the two.
Over in the ocean
Far away from the sun
Lived a mother octopus
And her octopus one
In Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef, Marianne Berkes adapts the classic song, “Over in the Meadow,” to life in a coral reef. This counting rhyme explores ocean life from stingrays to puffer fish to seahorses. This engaging picture book invites interaction on many levels. The fun counting song includes many factual details about the coral reef habitat and the animals that live there with their babies. Whether they are squirting, puffing, jumping or skittering, the actions of each creature accurately reflects their real-life behavior.
Colonial Churches of Virginia is a beautiful and beautifully-written work that does a good job of giving the history and architectural highlights of more than 50 historic churches in the Old Dominion. Most are Anglican or Episcopal, but representative early churches can also be found for Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Mennonite, and Lutheran congregations. Current service times are noted for each church.
Where is Heaven? How do we know there is life after death? What do you say to someone who doesn't believe in Heaven? All good questions, which the inexhaustible evangelist Billy Graham has answered over the course of his long life. In this brand-new, beautifully-packaged little book are gathered--and edited--the answers to these and many other questions on the topic of death and Heaven.