Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Integrity of Words

I was raised on words. They tumbled off the kitchen table onto the floor where I sat: grandfather, uncles, and refugees flung Russian, Polish, Yiddish, French, and what passed for English at one another in a competitive cascade of assertion and interrogation.

A remarkable reverie on the management of words by Tony Judt

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(Cats) Whip It

For those who love DEVO and felines check out the former’s newest SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY being enjoyed by the later here.  (via Vulture)

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John Grisham’s Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

Grisham’s first book for kids is the story of amiable thirteen-year old Theo who loves the law, haunts the courthouse, and helps his classmates and friends with their own legal troubles, say a looming foreclosure, a nasty divorce, or a runaway dog. He lives in a generic-sounding city with pleasant lawyer parents and goes to the gentlest middle school ever.  And someone in this very nice situation is about to get away with murder.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?  And for kids who are as interested as Theo in the law and the details of criminal trials I think it might work, but others may find all the exposition about trials and the legal system with little action to balance it very draggy.  Not to mention awfully adult-centered. While there are a few moments involving Theo’s classmates, say that runaway dog and another’s horrible custody situation, the central story is about a murder trial involving adults, a seventeen-year old potential witness with a secret that keeps him afraid to come forward, and a bunch of adult secondary characters — Theo’s parents, his uncle, the judge, his teacher, various courthouse and law office workers, and so on.

While I have no doubt some kids will stick with this to see how Theo manages to see that justice is served, I’m guessing others will not want to plod through all the endless telling.  Not to mention that Theo just doesn’t really feel like a contemporary thirteen-year old in a 2010 situation.  Hardly anyone in his school or grade has a cell phone?  Please.  He can’t do sports because of asthma?  If it is that serious (rather than a clumsy way to make him free after school) then shouldn’t he be carrying an inhaler and having attacks now and then?  I’ve students with asthma, but it never keeps them from doing sports.

And what about the sex?  (Got you there, didn’t I?) Early on Grisham writes that Theo doesn’t know a “single thirteen-year-old boy who admitted to having a girlfriend. Just the opposite. They wanted nothing to do with them. And the girls felt the same way. Theo had been warned that things would change, and dramatically, but that seemed unlikely.” What the …? This wasn’t true in my day and I’m OLDER than Grisham.  And then later in the book we get a teeny little sidestory about the most popular girl in the eighth grade and how cute she is, how she loves to flirt, her A and B lists, and so on. She is dropped in and then out again, but clearly Theo has some feelings, clean ones of course, when it suits the storyteller.  Lame, lame, lame.

Then there is poor April whose awful parents are in a custody battle over her. She disappears for long periods and her storyline feels very forced — just a way, it seems, to throw a female into the mix. I mean, she doesn’t DO anything except worry and such.  Couldn’t she at least be Theo’s sidekick?  Oh, I forgot, he’s got his dog Judge for that.  Or maybe his grungy uncle Ike is meant to fulfill that role? Certainly, he helps Theo save the day in the end.

A few of the many other things that bugged me:

  • The family watching Perry Mason reruns (reruns? reruns? what kid today calls them reruns) at 7PM once a week. Huh?
  • The scary-possibly-bad-guy named Omar Cheepe — must you use the foreign-sounding-name card in 2010?
  • The still-getting-comfortable-with-English character from El Salvador saying things like, “He ventured over in one of the utility carts…”

My verdict: unfortunately dull.

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Lots of Oz Coming Soon to a Screen Near You, Maybe

Vulture has learned that Sam Raimi has been offered the director’s chair for Disney’s Oz, the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz.

This from NYMag’s Vulture Blog.  Did I know this was in the works?  Not only did I not, but I also did not know that Warner Brothers’ has two Oz movies in the works as well. What I did know is that this is not Disney’s first Oz movie.  They also did Return to Oz which I like to show to my class after we’ve read the Baum’s book, viewed the MGM movie, and debated if it (the 1939 movie) is a good adaptation.

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A Few More Summer Reading Suggestions

I really like Linda Shiue’s  series of summer reading posts over at Salon in response to her “Open Call for great summer reading lists for kids.”

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Laura Miller on the Nature of Writing and Linking

All of us may now swim in a vast ocean of interlocking data nuggets, but people can still only read one word at a time, and putting the best words (and the best ideas) in the best order remains the essence of the writer’s craft.

Laura Miller’s got some very convincing ideas about reading, writing, and linking. Instead of the standard practice of embedding citation links throughout her essays, she’s putting them at the end.  I like all of what she says, most of all how the practice helps her to be a better writer.

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Jasper Fforde’s Got a Children’s Book in the Works — Hurray!

Hodder & Stoughton is delighted to announce the acquisition of Jasper Fforde’s first work for a younger generation of readers. Hilarious, offbeat and bewitching, The Last Dragonslayer is the first in the Dragonslayer trilogy, and the beginning of a truly exciting new work.

In the good old days, magic was powerful, unregulated by government, and even the largest spell could be woven without filling in the magic release form B1-7g. But somewhere, somehow, the magic started draining away.

Jennifer Strange runs Kazam!, an employment agency for state-registered magicians, soothsayers and sorceresses. But work is drying up. Drain cleaner is cheaper and quicker than a spell. Why trust a cold and drafty magic carpet when jetliners offer a comfy seat and an in-flight movie? And now potions are eligible for VAT…

But then the visions start. The Last Dragon is going to be killed by a Dragonslayer at 12.00 on Sunday. The death will unleash untold devastation on the UnUnited Kingdom, setting principality against dukedom and property developer against homesteader. And all the signs are pointing to Jennifer Strange, and saying “Big Magic is coming.”

The Last Dragonslayer is fizzing with all the creativity and genius Jasper Fforde’s fans delight in, and will appeal as much to the young at heart as to the younger readers for whom it is written.

I’m a great fan of Jasper Fforde’s adult work and so was absolutely delighted to see this announcement.  Now I realize we often aren’t too happy when adult writers decide to do kid books, but Fforde’s sensibility, I feel, is on the mark for this.  Witty, silly, quirky, and in the tradition of Lewis Carroll when it comes to language play. I’m very, very hopeful.  (I also noticed that there is  a new Thursday Next book due out soon — starring the “written Thursday Next” as opposed to the real one.  Hmmm.)

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Summer Road Trip

Check-out my New York Times review of Lynn Rae Perkins’ As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth.  Hint: I liked it.

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Yo, Laurie Anderson, I’m thinking there’s a kid’s book here

“Yo!” Anderson shouted from behind her keyboard. “Beautiful work, dogs!”

Just about every other celebrity has done or is doing one so why not performance artist Laurie Anderson?  Her latest work “Music for Dogs”  which she just did in front of an audience of dogs (and their human companions) in Sydney, Australia sounds ripe for the plucking. Not to mention very cool.

In fact she isn’t even a novice.  Long, long ago she did some children’s books. Her first, The Package, is evidently a wordless mystery. Doesn’t the cover intrigue? (But $745.50 for a copy?  Don’t think so).

Couldn’t find any video of the dog piece, so to give you a taste of what she is like (I’m a fan from way back), here is one of my old favorites of hers, “Language is a Virus.”

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Classroom Swag

While I am not big on a whole lotta cute stuff in my classroom, I do admit to a few stuffed critters in one corner and I do try to find fun and cheap swag (of the classroom kid sort) to give to my students now and then.  And one of the best places for this sort of stuff, I’ve found, is Oriental Trading. But who knew that they are evidently a go-to place for wedding swag? Check out this bride-to-be’s tart observations about their offerings.   (via Sharyn November)

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