Shelf Life Blog
A birthday gift from the North Wind. A pie so feathery-light it carries people away. A cat on a mat that grants wishes to a poor girl and her grandmother. Elves in the shelves, mermaids in the bathtub and a tiger that’s faster than the wind. Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops and Other Stories is a magical book that is probably one of the best read-alouds out there for kindergarten and early elementary grades.
In Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden, Hallie Brady arrives in the wilderness near Hightop Mountain in 1750. Nobody white had settled this part of Massachusetts before, and the native people who camped nearby vowed that no man would find happiness west of the mountain. Teenaged, English-born Hallie comes with her not-good-for-much husband and a couple of other families he has duped into following him in circles for days before winding up in the shadow of the mountain just as the November snows are settling in.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, is a touching blend of family drama and otherworldliness. He wrote it for his wife, who does not care so much for extreme fantasy, and so he decided to include many realistic details from his own childhood. But he enriched that beginning with dark and horrific drama, as well as beauty and wisdom, and ultimately gave it an elemental, magical grounding.
In Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough, it’s 1958, and Cora and her small sister Mimi have been taken from their London home and dumped in the middle of the English marshes where something is waiting for them.
Michael K. already has a few strikes against him. He's a new kid at a new school in a new town, but did he really have to get stuck sitting next to the two weirdest kids in the classroom? The girl, Jennifer, is halfway through eating her pencil when the boy, Bob, tells Michael that the two of them aren't human. They are Spaceheadz.
Bob, Jennifer, and the hamster, Major Fluffy, are on an intergalatic mission to save Earth. They must do this by recruiting 3.14 million Earthlings as Spaceheadz, and they think Michael K. is the person to help them get the job done.
Joel and Ethan Coen might be the two finest filmmakers working in America today. There are few directors who have captured more entertaining, accurate, or varied instances of the American experience.
Nearly all of their films center around some sort of crime or illicit behavior. Sometimes the protagonist is the perpetrator. Other times he is a victim or an unwitting bystander sucked into the chaos. Almost always though, the protagonist is a fool.
Jon Ronson sees insanity all around him. Partially that is because as a journalist he is drawn to write stories in which people engage in erratic behavior. It is also because he has learned The Psychopath Test, and he cannot stop administering the 20-point checklist to everyone around him.
Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm
Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth
Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Item 4: Pathological lying
And, so on. From a rude concierge at a hotel to the CEO of a giant corporation, no matter where Ronson looks, everything's coming up psycho.
Daisy Kutter: The Last Train follows a feisty female trying to be on her best behavior. Ms. Kutter runs the town general store, but she was always most at her element when committing train robberies and other such deeds.
She may be trying to be a good girl at the beginning of the story, but we all know that old habits die hard. When she's asked to come out of retirement to rob one last locomotive, the offer sounds too good to be true.
In That is Not a Good Idea! Mo Willems takes the art of silent films and applies it to picture books. A dapper fox has spied a beautiful goose walking the city streets. Each image is devoid of text, we only see what they are saying on black pages in between the action.
"Excuse me. Would you care to go for a stroll?" inquires the fox as he tips his hat. Suddenly, the film is interrupted. "That is NOT a good idea!" exclaims a baby goose.
Ragtime, by E. L. Doctorow, swirls through 1906 America with a breakneck stream-of-consciousness pace more frenetic than most historical fiction. A densely-constructed ensemble piece that alternates between fictional and real life figures of the age, the thoroughly modern novel amazed critics and readers alike upon its publication in 1975.