Monthly Archives: February 2010

Coming Soon: Deborah Wiles’ Countdown

Although it evidently has been in the works for years and years (The Sixties Project), I knew nothing about this book until a few weeks ago when I saw that one of my goodread friends was reading it. Having enjoyed Wiles’ earlier books, I contacted the publisher for an ARC. They told me it wasn’t ready yet and they’d send me a manuscript; I said I’d wait, but they sent it anyway.   And I am mighty glad they did.

How to describe it? On the one hand it is a very straightforward work of historical fiction. On the other hand it is also filled with primary sources, collages of them, and nonfiction vignettes. Kinda scrapbookish. Wiles is calling it a “documentary novel.” Whatever it is, I loved it.

It definitely is the story of Franny and her family and friends over the brief, but frightening time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Based on her own childhood memories, Wiles represents the time and place vividly. And her characters are nuanced and complex. Not a one-dimensional one in the lot. There is the beloved older sister who is off to college and activism. The earnest younger brother who lugs around a book on atoms and wants to be an astronaut. The very-60s mother who plays bridge and is rarely without a cigarette. The embarrassing great-uncle who suffers from post-traumatic-stress (not that it is so identified as this is 1962, of course). The  often absent military dad. Most of all there is our protagonist Franny — an endearing and complicated eleven-year-old. As often happens at this age, Franny’s own small world is changing as harshly as is the big world. She’s facing-off her former best friend even as Kennedy and Khrushchev are doing so the world stage. Both relationships are teetering on the brink.  You know how the latter ends; as for Franny’s — well, just read the book when it comes out in May.

Now would I have been as wild about it without the documentary stuff? Honestly? I’d definitely still have enjoyed the story, but this additional material, the bricolage, the scrapbook stuff makes it a richer reading experience. There are posters about duck and cover. Material on the making bomb shelters.  Advertisements.  Song lyrics. Quotes. Photos. (You can get a taste of it here.)  And scattered here and there are lively small essays about significant figures, say Truman and Kennedy.  I can’t wait to see how it all looks in the final book.

Keep your eyes peeled for this one come May!



Filed under Historical Fiction

Kids Today

A few more updated children’s books.  At least one actually exists.

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Alice and Alice and Even More Alice

The Tim Burton film opens Friday and, as is to be expected, there are many articles related to it and the book on which it is based.

One of my favorite writers ruminates on the favorite book of mine, some of its film adaptations,  and considers it alongside some other classical children’s books in  “AS Byatt on Alice in Wonderland.”  Lovely.

In the New York Times, Dave Kehr takes a close look at the 1933 Paramount film that is, I’m thrilled to learn, is finally available on DVD.  I’ve seen it (someone I knew had an old video of it they’d taped off the air) and while I can’t agree with Kehr that it  “… remains among the most faithful and insinuating of the dozens of films and television shows derived from the source material” I still enjoyed his close look at this oddly unknown film.

Over in Boston there is Don Aucoin weighing in with “There’s Something About ‘Alice'” with quotes from a number of familiar folks in the children’s lit world.

Then there is this article about the film:  Drinking Blood: New Wonders of Alice’s World. “Even before Alice becomes a combatant in a Manichean struggle between good and evil, dressed in armor and drinking her vanquished foe’s blood to return to her natural state, she walks across a moat filled with heads to infiltrate the Red Queen’s castle.” Yikes!

But I’m seeing it Friday at the IMAX no less. I’ll let you know what I think.

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Snicket, Time, and the Exquisite Corpse Adventure Episode 12

Even a life story as tumultuous and complicated as that of Nancy and Joe is just a tiny speck in the enormous tumult and complication of life, and if you think too much about this sad, inescapable fact you are likely to feel like screaming.

Ah, Mr. Lemony Snicket.  How good to have you back, morose as ever, in the latest Exquisite Corpse Adventure.

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A Grand Day Out with a Few Award Contenders

Hadn’t planned it, but it is turning into movie week here at educating alice. All because Nancy Werlin directed my attention to the first film below, causing me to check out all the Oscar nominees for Best Short Film (Animated).  And so, here they all are in full or trailer form.

I like it much.  But it is up against my favorite human and dog sleuths, that intrepid duo, Wallace and Gromit.

And then this one that makes me think of The Triplets of Belleville for some reason. (Don’t know it? Calling on Matt to feature it over at Cockeyed Caravan.)

Death stars in this one.

And I’m not too sure what this one’s about, but it sure looks pretty.

Amazing that it is now possible to see them all online.  Not too long ago I only saw the nominees in this category on public television or in their teeny clips on Oscar night.


Filed under Movies

And Speaking of Movies…

To be fair, I need to see the movies, but at the moment I’m cranky as hell about what I’ve seen so far about two forthcoming movies based on iconic books of my youth.  Yet again (Percy Jackson anyone?) they seem to have upped the ages of the two protagonists substantially.  What is wrong with true tweens?

First there is Harriet the Spy: BLOG Wars (via 100ScopeNotes).

And then there is this Ramona and Beezus poster.


Filed under Classic, Movies

A Few of My Underrated Movies

She picked two movies I’m a fan of (though not equally), and two movies I’ve never even heard of, but they look fascinating:

That’s Matt Bird’s intro to my Cockeyed Caravan guest post now up.  As might be expected three of the four movies I chose are related to children’s books.  But they may still surprise you so do take a look (and add your own ideas about underrated movies in the comments if you are so inclined).


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The Books! The Judges! The 2010 Battle of the Kids’ Books is Nigh.

Fuse#8 has the scoop — the contenders and judges for this year’s SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books!  We’ve been scheming, I mean, planning this for months now and I am very excited.  Hope you all are too! As soon as our new site is ready we will announce that as well. Any day now.  In the meantime, here are the contenders and judges again.

The Contenders


The Judges

M. T. Anderson
Christopher Paul Curtis
Nancy Farmer
Candace Fleming
Helen Frost
Shannon Hale
Angela Johnson
Cynthia Kadohata

Julius Lester
Jim Murphy
Walter Dean Myers
Katherine Paterson
Gary Schmidt
Anita Silvey
Megan Whalen Turner

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The Metropolitan Museum, Percy Jackson, and Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan was a middle school teacher for years and used his own lessons to create an excellent Percy Jackson teacher guide.   And now he is going to be part of a Metropolitan Museum teacher workshop on March 14th. Bet it is going to be excellent!

Full-Day Workshop—Gods, Monsters, Myths: Exploring Greek and Roman Art through the Eyes of Percy Jackson

In the opening pages of Rick Riordan’s book The Lightning Thief, young Percy Jackson visits the Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum with his school class to witness the power and magic of the works of art as mythology springs to life. Join us for this special workshop for K–12 educators and discover the wonder and beauty of classical mythology as represented in great ancient Greek and Roman works of art. Discuss key works, develop teaching strategies, and receive resource materials before attending a talk by

Riordan in the afternoon.

See Teacher Programs for registration information. For further information about teacher programs please call 212–570–3985 or email Enrollment for all workshops is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Susan K. Morrall, Giovanna Assenso-Termini
Fee: $50 (Includes instruction, resource materials, admission to the Museum and the Rick Riordan event, and lunch)
10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., Art Study Room, Uris Center for Education

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Wise Writers

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. (Elmore Leonard)

4 Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy. (Roddy Doyle)

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting. (Jonathan Franzen)

2 Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious. (PD James)

5 Be aware that anything that appears before “Chapter One” may be skipped. Don’t put your vital clue there. (Hilary Mantel)

4 Unless you are writing something very avant-garde – all gnarled, snarled and “obscure” – be alert for possibilities of paragraphing. (Joyce Carol Oates)

6 Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is. (Zadie Smith)

Just a taste of the advice proffered by a bunch of very experienced writers in the Guardian’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.”

In Part I, you’ve got: Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy

And in Part II, there are: Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson

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