My teenreads review of Andrea Warren's Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London is finally up at teenreads with only minor changes. The strength of my feelings on this topic surprised me as did my political confessions; I generally try not to let these colors show in my reviews. This review has also led to some fascinating discussions. There's a lot more to say about this book than appears in the review, even if some of it's digressions are a little odd:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/charles-dickens-and-the-street-children-of-london

And, I wrote a little mini-sermon on A Christmas Carol over at Barnes & Noble Letter Blocks. One of the things that struck me about this book is that it pretty much kick-started secular Christmas. It's notable how many signifiers of the season are not present in the book, and how, aside, from Tiny Tim's "God bless us everyone!" the big G is largely absent.

I have a very emotional response to A Christmas Carol, and it gets stronger every year. The parallels to It's a Wonderful Life are also becoming painfully apparent, as you will see from the last paragraph of the review.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Charles-Dickens-A-Christmas-Carol/ba-p/1242675

Neither review really gets at the heart of what I've been trying to say about Charles Dickens, who I don't particularly like, but who has come to be a topic of fascination --- and led to some fabulous discussions --- as I've done some of my background reading. 2012 is the 200th anniversary of his birth, so he won't be going away any time soon.
As always, this list assembled after the fact may not reflect all books read this year. If you have any questions, favorites to share, or a request for personalized recommendations, I am always happy to talk about books!

2011: The Year in Books )
In honor of Georgia O'Keeffe's birthday, a review of a recent biography:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Georgia-O-Keeffe-Wideness-and-Wonder/ba-p/1202432

Remember several years ago when I had a hankering for a roadtrip of the Southwest? I'm hoping I can actually take it this coming spring.
Hello, here's a link to [livejournal.com profile] anindita's post on Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavor. I really loved this book and would love to hear what other people think about it. She provides a link, as well, but I'm also linking my referenced review @ B&N. And, of course, the inevitable Mary Shelley tag here at LJ.

Mary Shelley remains an enigma to me. I think this portion from the B&N review best summarizes her appeal for me:

One very creepy scene in Oppel’s book deals with the restoration of an ancient book whose pages have become fused together. Oppel’s Victor narrates, “And for a moment the book seemed not a book at all but a living body, and instead of paper, I glimpsed pulsing viscera and blood and organs. I blinked again, not trusting my vision. But --- and this was most strange and repulsive --- the book seemed to emanate the smell of a slaughterhouse, of entrails and offal."

This curious scene gives life, not only to the later monster --- which has not yet made an appearance by the end of Oppel’s book --- but to one of the interesting critical interpretations of Mary Shelley’s book. The sense that the monster (and it’s important to note that in Mary Shelley’s work the monster remains unnamed; it is only later monsters that have taken on the name of their creator: Frankenstein) is not just constructed of bits and pieces of human bodies, but bits and pieces of philosophy: a sort of living word. The monster’s strange education --- like Shelley’s own --- is cobbled together from his overhearing the conversations of others. What is most moving about Frankenstein is the eloquent voice Mary Shelley ultimately gives the monster. The monster comes across as more sympathetic, more human, than its creator, despite the acts of vengeance it enacts upon its creator and his family...

... in many ways it
[Frankenstein] is the most significant --- and complete --- record we have of Mary Shelley’s life and work. It is also one of the more complete works that survives that cold summer in Switzerland. Each of the persons present the night Frankenstein was born kept journals and wrote letters, but over the years the record was lost, altered, or destroyed outright in keeping with changing mores. Mary Shelley herself significantly altered the record when it came to her husband, Percy, and it is largely due to her work that he enjoys the reputation he does today. What little we know about Mary Shelley and her life is a creature as cobbled together as her monster, and it speaks as eloquently---and as cryptically---as her most famous creation.

@ Anindita.org: http://www.anindita.org/2011/11/this-dark-endeavor/

@ B&N: This Dark Endeavor: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein re-imagined.

Here @ LJ http://zalena.livejournal.com/tag/shelley
I am so far behind, I'm just getting to compiling this list now:

August Book Reviews )
Today's post is honor of Mary Shelley's birthday and Kenneth Oppel's new series This Dark Endeavor about the adolescence of Victor Frankenstein. I rather enjoyed the first book, which shows familiarity with Mary Shelley's life and work. But I'm reserving judgement until I see how things play out:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/This-Dark-Endeavor-Mary-Shelley-s-Frankenstein-re-imagined/ba-p/1146062

Mary Shelley remains an enigma to me, but I did pick up on one interesting criticism I hadn't hit before and I tucked it into the review for further meditation:

One very creepy scene in Oppel’s book deals with the restoration of an ancient book whose pages have become fused together. Oppel’s Victor narrates, “And for a moment the book seemed not a book at all but a living body, and instead of paper, I glimpsed pulsing viscera and blood and organs. I blinked again, not trusting my vision. But --- and this was most strange and repulsive --- the book seemed to emanate the smell of a slaughterhouse, of entrails and offal."

This curious scene gives life, not only to the later monster --- which has not yet made an appearance by the end of Oppel’s book --- but to one of the interesting critical interpretations of Mary Shelley’s book. The sense that the monster (and it’s important to note that in Mary Shelley’s work the monster remains unnamed; it is only later monsters that have taken on the name of their creator: Frankenstein) is not just constructed of bits and pieces of human bodies, but bits and pieces of philosophy: a sort of living word. The monster’s strange education --- like Shelley’s own --- is cobbled together from his overhearing the conversations of others. What is most moving about Frankenstein is the eloquent voice Mary Shelley ultimately gives the monster. The monster comes across as more sympathetic, more human, than its creator, despite the acts of vengeance it enacts upon its creator and his family.


That palimpsest* incarnate... I don't know whether that makes it creepier or more wonderful or both.

* a page that has been scraped so it can be used, again.
Not only did I really enjoy the book, I think the post about it turned out pretty well. For more about ancestral bones and farting Cossacks, click the link below:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Every-Bone-Tells-a-Story-by-Jill-Rubalcaba-and-Peter-Robertshaw/ba-p/1020694
Today's post on Houdini touched on one of my favorite topics: release from bondage. Houdini did this in a literal way, but it is amazing the ways in which his life story is used to discuss his escape from other kinds of the troubles: the tyranny of poverty, repressive governments, and religious intolerance. None of the things Houdini was born to kept him from the fearless pursuit to create his own life:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Harry-Houdini-Magician-amp-Escape-Artist/ba-p/916410

Also, Tuesday's post on Randolph Caldecott, the artist behind the award for excellence in children's illustration that bears his name:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Randolph-Caldecott-The-artist-and-the-award-that-bears-his-name/ba-p/913272

Behind many revered talents is dogged determination. What struck me most about Caldecott's story was the observation that his raw talent was unremarkable. It was the years of practice and determination that made him great.
The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts

Probably best for non-specialists, but well-written and very accessible:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/THE-NEW-COOL-A-Visionary-Teacher-His-FIRST-Robotics-Team-and-the/ba-p/897366
This post didn't turn out as well as hoped, but the book is still excellent. I would recommend it to readers over 10, including adults. I will probably give it to my father:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/The-Notorious-Benedict-Arnold-Hero-amp-Traitor/ba-p/873798

I'm especially interested in his Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, which I've eyed a few times before. Talmudic tall-tales seem just like my cup-of-tea.
Today's Susan B. Anthony post turned out pretty well, even if I'm not sure I'm hitting the right notes for the intended audience:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Susan-B-Anthony-and-Elizabeth-Cady-Stanton-A-Friendship-That/ba-p/863684

There's a lot I wanted to include, but decided to leave out. The heartbreaking compromise of the 15th amendment is a nasty piece of work on both sides and I was surprised how little its talked about in subsequent hagiographies: inside or outside children's literature. The fact that the 14th amendment is now a matter of controversy due to immigration law disturbs me, and I suspect we will be hearing a lot about both 14th & 15th in years to come. (As both immigration and prison suffrage I have predicted to be two of the hot button issues of the 21C. Or to make it a more blanket affair: who is and isn't a citizen, who does and doesn't qualify for public recognition, participation in benefits, enfranchisement in the political process, etc.)

As for SBA - one of the scholars said something a long the lines of "In another time she would have been a Stoic, a Calvinist, a Puritan, but in her time she had to be a Reformer: and a feminist, at that."

It was one of those duck and cover moments for me: guilty as accused. But what that makes someone with these inclinations in this day and age, remains to be seen.
In honor of Jules Verne, I wrote this post on speculative fiction and youth literature for B&N Letter Blocks today:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Science-Fiction-An-emerging-trend-for-youth-readers/ba-p/851126

It has some problems and gross oversights, but seemed like a good place to start.

Have you noticed my posts getting longer and more involved? I have. Even without deliberate effort, it's happening.

You may also be interested in my Teenreads coverage of Across the Universe:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/9781595143976.asp

I suspect I have more to say about this topic, but it will have to be in an f-locked post for another time.

Note: Any time I use the phrase, "Spaceship Earth" I am referring not just to the phrase popularized by Buckminster Fuller, but Herzog's film Wild Blue Yonder:

http://zalena.livejournal.com/511542.html
I am rather fond of my post at B&N re: Langston Hughes, today:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Langston-Hughes-for-Young-Readers/ba-p/838634

I've always been fond of his poetry (early attempts at composition involved setting his work), but learning about his biography this weekend was a deeply moving experience.
At Letter Blocks in honor of her birthday today: How I came to love Jane Austen and why her work still matters.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Jane-Austen-for-Youth-Readers/ba-p/759762

See my 'austen' tag for more on the topic, though I suspect there's more Austen hidden in the archives that I haven't, yet, rediscovered or tagged:

http://zalena.livejournal.com/tag/austen
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine
An innkeeper makes dumplings from hapless travelers. A brain surgeon is haunted by the ghosts of a patient he killed and a monkey whose brains he ate. A girl returns from the grave to haunt the stepmother who buried her alive. These stories and eight delicious recipes are part of Ying Chang Compestine's collection of original ghost stories. Combining a love of spooky stories with a passion for cooking A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts is a shivery and savory way to learn about Chinese culture and history and celebrate our own season of the dead.
http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/A-Banquet-for-Hungry-Ghosts-Chinese-ghost-stories-and-recipes/ba-p/673914

More Halloween theme blog posts/book reviews under the cut... )
For Barnes & Noble
Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham by Amy Ignatow- Another humorous title about two fifth-grade girls who embark on a research project of how to be popular. Assembled as though it is written by the girls in the title, this has excellent visual appeal and reminds me of projects I embarked upon at that age with my friend Leila. This was also laugh-aloud funny with all sorts of wacky high jinks while remaining age appropriate and lots of fun to read. GBLT readers/parents will be pleased to note that Julie has two dads and this is considered normal, but my favorite aspect of the book was mixups involving the Norwegian family who has moved into the neighborhood (but who oddly spell their last name as though they are Danes.) Word to the Wise: If you are doing a research project on how to be popular you will never be popular. However, one of the tactics this book does not stoop to is girls pretending to be dumb to get people to like them, or deliberate cruelty to finagle their way up the twisted social ladder. Filled with fun, embarrassment, and genuine friendship, I liked this book so much I'm actually GIVING this title to my childhood best friend for her bday next month.
http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/The-Popularity-Papers-For-Anyone-who-has-ever-Deliberately-Set/ba-p/634413

Mt. Olympus for Minors - some gaping holes here, but I did include a link to Alexander Nehamas' op-ed piece 'Plato's Pop Culture Problem' from the NYTimes:

Children in ancient Athens learned both grammar and citizenship from Homer and the tragic poets. Plato follows suit but submits their works to the sort of ruthless censorship that would surely raise the hackles of modern supporters of free speech. But would we have reason to complain? We, too, censor our children’s educational materials as surely, and on the same grounds, as Plato did. Like him, many of us believe that emulation becomes “habit and second nature,” that bad heroes (we call them “role models” today) produce bad people. We even fill our children’s books with our own clean versions of the same Greek stories that upset him, along with our bowdlerized versions of Shakespeare and the Bible.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Mount-Olympus-for-Minors/ba-p/642142

Teenage Wasteland: What's Behind the Trend in Dystopian Fiction for Young Readers? - with a link to Laura Miller's discussion of the topic in the New Yorker

Adults dump teenagers into the viper pit of high school, spouting a lot of sentimental drivel about what a wonderful stage of life it’s supposed to be. The rules are arbitrary, unfathomable, and subject to sudden change. A brutal social hierarchy prevails, with the rich, the good-looking, and the athletic lording their advantages over everyone else. To survive you have to be totally fake. Adults don’t seem to understand how high the stakes are; your whole life could be over, and they act like it’s just some “phase”! Everyone’s always watching you, scrutinizing your clothes or your friends and obsessing over whether you’re having sex or taking drugs or getting good enough grades, but no one cares who you really are or how you really feel about anything.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Teenage-Wasteland-What-s-Behind-the-Trend-in-Dystopian-Fiction/ba-p/645274

The Limit by Kristin Landon - a title about children who are taken by the gov't to workhouses to help pay off their families debts. Not as grim as I thought it would be, but that almost makes it more disturbing.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/The-Limit-How-Far-Would-You-go-to-Help-Your-Family-Out-of-Debt/ba-p/651366

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst - so the book is a little silly, but the format with extremely short chapters and lots of illustrations makes this book a nice transitional titles from easy-readers for kids who need a little hand-holding. Judith Viorst is also author of Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. Viorst on Alexander:

Alexander, the youngest of my three sons, seemed to be having A LOT of bad days. He fell out of trees, fell off of chairs, broke his wrist, knocked out his front teeth, and, in addition to these breaks and bruises, was involved in a variety of non-physical disasters and disappointments. I thought that the notion of "a bad day," could serve for him, and for all kids, as it does for adults, a "container" function, suggesting that this day—this bad news—would (honest and truly!) come to an end. I was also tacitly suggesting in the book that everyone, just not our hapless hero, sometimes has bad days and that neither the fictional nor the real-life Alexander has been singled out for a unique fate. Furthermore, these bad days happen everywhere, even in Australia, and since we can't escape them we might as well muddle through them and maybe even try (at some point) to laugh about them.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Judith-Viorst-s-Lulu-and-the-Brontosaurus/ba-p/653964

Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberburg - this looks like another Wimpy Kid knock off with cartoony pictures about a self-styled loser, but turns out to be about a very serious topic: dealing with the death of a parent.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Facing-Life-Changes-and-Difficult-Losses-with-Milo-Sticky-Notes/ba-p/659450

The Obligatory Banned Books Post:

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Banned-Books-Week-Addressing-Controversial-Themes-in-Youth/ba-p/661554

Teen Angels: Paranormal Romance Grows Wings - a lead-up to next week's book club discussion of Becca Fitzpatrick's Crescendo. The author will also be appearing at the Tattered Cover on the 11th in a strange confluence of the virtual world meeting the physical one.

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Teen-Angels-Paranormal-Romance-Grows-Wings/ba-p/669256

For Kidsreads
The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi - A girl raised in an underground 'Sanctuary' is thrown into an alien world when her bunker is attacked and destroyed. This book is being touted as the latest in format and interactivity. Whatever one might think of the lush two-tone, two-page illustration spreads, (there are 70!) or the five-hundred page story, anyone who approaches this novel looking for "a new format that combines a traditional novel with a graphic novel and with the interactivity of the computer" (School Library Journal) will be disappointed. This is a book with lovely illustrations. The interactive aspect involves primarily reading and turning pages. The online portion---that requires software installation---does little more than open an map with animated cut-outs.

DiTerlizzi on his own book: Yes, WondLa is full of many classic sci-fi elements (robots, aliens, hovercraft, etc.), but it is a fairy tale at its heart. It contains many familiar fairy-tale plot motifs we all know of: a little girl lost in the woods, an evil huntsman after her, forest spirits who aid her in response to her own kindness and an uncaring queen who rules the land.

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/9781416983101.asp

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