Shelf Life Blog
What a wonderful introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the young (or a reminder of the message for the young at heart) to receive by watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with friends and family this holiday season. Muppet Gonzo the Great, as author Charles Dickens, and his friend Rizzo the Rat, as himself, narrate and add some Muppet mayhem to this classic tale. With music by Paul Williams and Michael Caine as a bemused Scrooge, this movie is sweet, funny, and heartwarming. I am a lifelong Muppet fan, and, like Jason Segal in his new Muppet Movie this year, want to save the Muppets from being forgotten. So suspend your disbelief and enjoy Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits!
Jacob and Robert Marley (Muppets Statler and Waldorf) are the ghosts who haunt and heckle Scrooge in song about his avarice and greed. The chains Marley & Marley show Scrooge, which he has forged in his life, rattle his black soul and he starts his journey of self-discovery. Scrooge, of course, is haunted by Muppet ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Gonzo and Rizzo go along for the ride and add a little slapstick humor. Mixing the classic Muppet repertoire with Charles Dickens’ story is done seamlessly, such as the party at Fozziwig’s (played by Fozzie Bear) Rubber Chicken Factory with Animal jamming on the drums--a delight.
Billy Twitters is your average, run-of-the-mill elementary school-age kid. Sometimes he doesn’t clean his room; sometimes he doesn’t brush his teeth and at times such as these his parents threaten him with punishment of the most unusual sort. “Billy, finish your baked peas…or we’re buying you a blue whale.”
The boy thinks his parents are bluffing. A blue whale? Impossible! It wouldn't fit in the house! But one should never underestimate the power of mom and dad. When Billy awakes the next morning, a ginormous fin blocks the front door. By this point, you’ll be more than consumed by the tale of Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem.
Nickel and Dimed is the story of veteran journalist Barbara Ehrenreich’s investigation into low-wage America. Before she left her normal life to pursue this project, she already knew something of the problems that these workers endure because of her research into other social issues. Ehrenreich had suggested to the editor of Harper’s Magazine that someone should do an investigative piece about this group, but she never thought at the time that she would be the person to dig deep into the lives of the working poor in America.
When Jodi Linder was three, the unbearable happened. As told in Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning, one Saturday night, her father was murdered and her mother disappeared. Jodi grew up in the small town of Rose, Kansas, wrapped in the fierce protective circle of her three uncles, safe and cherished, but distrustful of happiness.
When Jodi Linder was 26, the unthinkable happened. Billy Crosby, the man convicted of killing her father, has been released from prison and returns to Rose, loudly protesting his innocence of the murder. In a small town, it’s hard to keep your distance from anyone, and Jodi finds that she starts to run into Billy’s son Collin just about everywhere. Collin is a lawyer who wants to live peacefully in Rose and wants to prove his father’s innocence.
Phineas Gage was truly a man with a hole in his head. Phineas, a railroad construction foreman, was blasting rock near Cavendish, Vermont, in 1848 when a thirteen-pound iron rod was shot through his brain. Miraculously, he survived to live another eleven years and become a textbook case in brain science.
What an amazing story! The pictures and illustrations add to the narrative, and the cover photograph of his skull is very thought-provoking. Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story, by John Fleischman, approaches Phineas’s life after the accident from a scientific and psychological viewpoint. Fleischman includes interviews with people who knew Gage before his accident as well as after and observed the changes in his behavior. The author also presents notes from the doctors who treated him over the eleven years following his accident. It is an amazing story of survival and the resilience of the human brain. Who would have thought that anyone could have survived even a little while--let alone talk, walk and function after such an event?
How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.
So begins Colin Meloy’s debut novel Wildwood, in which a girl named Prue journeys into the Impassable Wilderness, a dense maze of a forest outside her hometown of Portland, Oregon, in order to retrieve her brother--with an awkward classmate named Curtis tagging along. Due to some misfortune involving coyotes decked out in military uniforms, the two children must separately navigate this strange world where talking animals uneasily coexist with humans who have never met anyone from the outside. A revolution is about to happen, and Prue and Curtis quickly find themselves on opposite sides.
In the early 15th-century Venice of The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, no one is safe from the political ambitions of the ruling family--not even Giuliette, beautiful cousin of the Duke. She becomes a pawn in the schemes of her aunt and uncle who are regents for the simpleton Duke Marco. Meanwhile, Venice faces external threats from the Ottomans, the Byzantines and the German emperor. It is Atilo il Mauro's job as head of the Assassini to protect Venice and enforce the will of its ruling family while trying not to be destroyed by that family's internal power struggles.
Alexia Tarabotti finds it terribly inconvenient to happen upon a thirsting vampire while she herself is simply starving at an ill-hosted party with few victuals. She quickly dispatches the vamp with her parasol, a handy weapon that has saved her many times. Of course the vampire was no true danger to Alexia, who, as a rare preternatural without a soul, restores mortality (and therefore vulnerability) to such supernaturals as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves with a single touch. These supernaturals co-exist with humans in an alternate Victorian London in Soulless by Gail Carriger, the first of the Parasol Protectorate series.
The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt is a coming-of-age story in which Drew, the female protagonist, matures into a teenager experiencing both a new love and parental disputes. Drew is a thirteen-year-old girl who spends most of her time with her mother at their cheese shop, unlike most of the girls at her school who spend most of their time angry with their mothers and completely boy-crazy. This makes her less popular with others at her school. Her life basically revolves around the cheese shop where her friend Suwuzie, a middle-aged woman going through a divorce, and Nick, her crush who is a surfer turned pasta maker, work for her mom. School is about to end and she intends to spend the entire summer at the cheese shop.
My booktalking buddy and I were walking past one of the big screens at the England Run branch, and it was playing a crystal-clear print of an old, old movie, made way back when moviemaking was young. It had excellent effects, too, for such an early film. "We have a picture book by the man who made this movie," said my colleague, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick."
What a big book, made of half pictures, half words! The reader is drawn into the world of Hugo Cabret, a boy who lives in the walls of a train station in Paris. He is not always alone, but he is trying to keep himself a secret. His uncle used to wind and fix the many clocks in the train station, but he disappeared. Now Hugo winds them, and works on a project of his own. He has a mechanical man, a legacy of his father, and a notebook of drawings of the works of the mechanical man. Hugo needs parts for his project, so he steals them from the grumpy old man's toy booth at the station. Hugo does not realize the grumpy old man has secrets too....