Archive for September, 2012

Another Banned Book Week is upon us and I look forward to this every year. As I have state before in an earlier post, I am against book censorship. I believe in Intellectual Freedom and the right for everyone to choose what they want to read, with a few exceptions. The ALA (American Library Association) has put together this timeline to celebrate 30 years of “Liberating Literature”. It’s also a good way to find a book to read during the week. This guide from the New York Times can give you ways to celebrate Banned Book Week. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom always puts together a list of the most challenged books for the preceding year, and I think the way they redid the list makes it look rather catchy. I think this year I will try to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Color of Earth  by Tong Hwa-Kim. I encourage everyone to go out and read at least one banned book.

Here’s the list for 2011:

Out of 326 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism

Lots more reading and Book Reviews

Nothing that exciting has been going on lately. My grandfather is coming to visit from Alabama on the weekend so I am rather excited about that, even got my hair cut for the occasion. I don’t want to look sloppy as I’ve not seen him for about 2 years. He’s not yet met my son, so looking forward to them spending some time together. Liam is the second of his two great-grandchildren, and my sister-in-law is pregnant with her second child. I have, for whatever reason, suddenly started reading adult books again. Frankly for awhile, there wasn’t really anything I was really interested in reading. I’m currently reading the third book in the Yashim the Eunuch historical fiction/mystery series, called The Bellini Card, which I’m hoping will be as good as the first two books. I’m about to finish up the audiobook Erak’s Ransom by John Keating. My next very ambitious read is The Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings, which is the epic poem of the Persian empire done in the 11th century and translated to English (eek at 886 pg poem!). I’ve heard about it for years but never was able to find a copy.

Anyways, on to the reviews. As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present.


City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J Muth

I love Mo Willems and Jon J Muth’s books, so I figured this one ought to be a great collaboration. City Dog is running free for the first time, with no leash! He meets Country Frog and they play together through the seasons, until Dog can’t find Frog anymore, and finds a new playmate. I loved the expressive watercolor illustrations of Muth, especially the first fall picture with the oranges and blues. Great story as well. Definitely want to own this book! Recommended for ages 1-6, 5 stars.

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! by Mo Willems

Normally I love the Pigeon books, but this one I thought was too whiny and annoying. The Pigeon wants a puppy so much, until he actually gets one and realizes how big and scary it is. Then he decides he wants a walrus instead. I like how the end pages reflect the beginning and end of the story. Recommended for ages 1-6, 2 stars

Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems

Gerald and Piggie are ready to play outside, but as soon as they go out, it starts raining. Piggie is so frustrated! But soon she learns that she can play in the sun and the rain. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems

I thought this was a nice end to the series. Trixie is going to Holland to visit her grandparents and of course, brings her trusty buddy Knuffle Bunny along. She leaves it on the plane and is miserable without him. Her grandparents try to replace it, but Trixie isn’t satisfied until she dreams about Knuffle Bunny and all the places he is going to go and all the people he will meet while on the plane. Once she gets back on the plane, she finds him again, but decides that she’s old enough to be on her own without him. She gives Knuffle Bunny to a crying baby sitting behind her, which blows away her parents, the baby, and his mother. My favorite part was the end, which shows her growing up and having a family of her own. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Socksquatch by Frank W. Dormer

I had this on Liam’s to read list for awhile because the cover illustration was cute. I thought it would be a monster book for little kids, which it kind of was, but not exactly. Socksquatch has lost his sock and his foot is cold, so he goes around to the other monsters to ask for one. The illustrations were cute, as well as the end pages, but the story didn’t do anything for me. Recommended for ages 1-5, 2 stars.

The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury: Celebrated Picture Books and Stories to Read Aloud

I was interested in getting this book because there were so many books in one volume, that it would keep my son occupied for a week or so. I didn’t read all of the stories in the book because I either had read them before or weren’t interested in them. I will review the new ones I read below:

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert
I admit that I never read this book because I thought it was overrated, and everyone seemed to want to recommend it to me. It wasn’t a bad book, in fact I loved the illustrations and the story was cute and perfect for those just learning the alphabet. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Freight Trains written & illustrated by Donald Crews
I enjoyed this concept book which teaches children about colors and numbers through the medium of a freight train. Recommended for ages 1-4, 4 stars.

A Million Fish…More or Less by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Dena Schutzer
I had never heard of this story before, though I had heard of the author. It was a fun read because of the Southern backwater Creole way that they talk, as the main characters all live in a Louisiana swamp. I liked the story because it was full of tall tales that may or may not have happened, depending on your point of view. I especially liked Mosley, the bandit leader. Recommended for ages 6-9, 5 stars.

Millions of Cats written and illustrated by Wanda Gag
This was a cute story about a little old man and woman and their search for the perfect cat, picked out amongst “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.” Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, Illustrated by Anita Jeram
A great book for fathers to read to their sons, this book shows a father hare explaining to his young son how much he loves him. Usually these kind of books get too sappy, but this book managing to make it fun and delightful read. Recommended for ages 1-5, 5 stars.

Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall
This was a great story, which makes me wish that all teachers would do this now and again. The kids in Room 207 are bad; they don’t pay attention to their teacher Miss Nelson, they make too much noise, and they don’t do their work. That is, until they meet their substitute teacher Miss Viola Swamp, who makes them behave, keep quiet, and do their work. They realize how much they miss Miss Nelson, and are the perfect kids when she returns. Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.

Titch written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins
This was a cute short story about Titch, the youngest of three siblings and their adventures together. Recommended for ages 1-5, 2 stars.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
I enjoyed her book “The Little House,” and decided that this might be a good read too, and it was. I will say that since I’ve started reading all these Caldecott honors & winners that children’s books in the 1930s-40s tended to be longer than present day books. Not that it is a bad thing, just an interesting observation. Mike Mulligan had a steam shovel named Mary Anne and they built many roads and cellars for skyscrapers together. But then the gasoline, electric and Diesel shovels were pushing Mike and Mary Anne out of business. One day Mike read that the town of Popperville was going to build a new town hall, and Mike swears that they can dig the cellar in a day. They manage it with a lot of encouragement from the locals, but then Mary Anne is trapped in the cellar and can’t get out. So they build the town hall around her and she becomes their boiler, and Mike the janitor. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

The Stinky Cheese Man written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
I didn’t read all the stories, just the headlining one. This was a cute re-interpretation of “The Gingerbread Man” story, with great illustrations by Lane Smith that make the story even funnier. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Ten, Nine, Eight written and illustrated by Molly Bang
This was a fun counting concept book about a little girl getting ready for bed. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 stars.

I am a Bunny written by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry
I always loved the Richard Scarry cartoons, and this book was just as delightful. The story is about a bunny named Nicholas and the things he likes to do in every season, with those great illustrations. Recommended for ages 1-5, 4 stars.

Harry the Dirty Dog written by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
A great classic tale about a little dog who hates getting a bath and loves getting dirty. That is until his family can’t recognize him and he must take a bath to prove who he is. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Whose Mouse are You? by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Jose Aruego
I love Jose Aruego’s work, so I knew this book would be adorable. It is a story about a mouse whose family is lost and he must recover them, so he can belong again. Recommended for ages 1-4, 3 stars.

Owen written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Owen is very attached to his blanket Fuzzy, he takes it everywhere. When the nosy neighbor sees him with the blanket, she keeps offering strategies to Owen’s parents on how they can get rid of it. His parents don’t want him to bring it to school and Owen is very upset until his mother comes up with a great answer to their problem. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson
I had honestly never heard of this book till it was mentioned on the true life movie “The Blind Side,” as it was some of the character’s favorite books. Ferdinand is not like the other bulls. Instead of playing, he likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. So he did this all his life until he is one day stung by a bee, and some men who had come looking for bulls to put in the arena with a matador think that he is the fiercest bull around. But once he is put in the ring, he does not know what to do, so he just sits and smells the ladies’ flowers. Because he wouldn’t fight, they send him back home where he does what he always does and is very happy. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

The Sneetches written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
I have seen the cartoon version but never read the book, so I decided to read it to my son. I love the name Sylvester McMonkey McBean. Recommended for ages 3-6. 4 stars.

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (The Guardians of Childhood, #1) by William Joyce

This is how I think of William Joyce, the author of the Guardians of Childhood series. It’s like Philip Reeve (of the children/YA series “Larklight”) and Tony DiTerlizzi were part of a big writing family, and William Joyce is their cooler older brother. I’m saying this because he has elements of Reeve’s writing style with the cool illustration abilities of DiTerlizzi. Plus there’s also a dash of L. Frank Baum in there too, another author that I love.

Anyways, I really enjoyed the first book in the “Guardian of Childhood” novel series. The story is about a brigand named Nicholas St. North, North for short, who gives up a life of crime to help the children of Santoff Claussen and their wizard, Ombric. The King of Nightmares, Pitch (first introduced in “The Man in the Moon” picture book) and his Fearlings, have come to give kids nightmares and bring fear into their hearts, which he feeds off and becomes more powerful. He’s trying to stop North and Ombric as they travel to find the relics of the Golden Age, which will help stop the Nightmare King. Will Pitch succeed or will Ombric and North find what they are looking for? Read this awesome short book to find out.

I absolutely loved the illustrations, esp those of Nightlight, the robot djinni, Ombric’s owls, the Yeti and the Lunar Lamas. Highly recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

E. Aster Bunnymund and the Battle of the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core by William Joyce

Again, I loved this book and this series. The first book was excellent, and wasn’t sure it could get better, but it did. This story is a continuation of the “Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King,” where Ombric, North and Katherine are trying to find another relic of the Golden Age, but first they must rescue the children of Santoff Claussen who have been abducted by Pitch, in an attempt to ransom them for the entirety of Ombric’s vast library of spells and other magic. They enlist the help of the sole surviving member of the Pooka Brotherhood, E. Aster Bunnymund and his egg army. I love his costume and the whole chocolate part of the story! I think he’s my favorite character so far. Will Pitch get the library? Will Ombric, North and Katherine be able to save everyone? To find out those questions and more, read this brilliant second novel in the “Guardians of Childhood” series. Again, this book has fantastic illustrations and story and it is a fun quick read. Highly recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Otto the Book Bear by Katie Clemenson

OMG I love this book! I had put it on Liam’s to-read list because it looked adorable, and it was a great story. Otto is a book bear, which means he lives in a book and can come out and explore when no people are around. One day he comes out and everything in the house is gone, so he leaves the house and goes looking for a new place to live. He eventually finds a library, where there are many others like him that live in books. I want a book bear! Highly recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

On Our Way Home by Sebastien Braun

This is a great book for dads to read to their sons, or as a Father’s Day storytime. A father bear and his cub are walking home together. On the way, they raced, counted falling leaves, and ate berries. They watched the sunset together and then watched the stars come out. I loved the illustrations which were so warm and inviting. Recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

April’s Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry

This won the 1941 Caldecott honor award. The story is simple, April’s cat Sheba has kittens and since her and her parents live in a very small NYC apartment, they have to give the kittens away. But April is too attached to one kitten and its mother, so the family decides to move into a bigger apartment. I thought the story was too long and drawn-out, but I loved the charcoal illustrations of the cats, which the author was famous for and used her own cats as models. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry

I had seen the book before tons of times at various libraries, but had never picked it up. While I loved her drawings of cats in “April’s Kittens,” I thought the story sucked and dragged on for way to long. This book, which won a 1943 Caldecott Honor award, was much better. First off the illustrations were ridiculously cute. Marshmallow is about a young woman who has a grey tabby cat named Oliver and adopts a baby bunny named Marshmallow. At first Oliver is scared of the rabbit, but learns to love him. I love the illustrations of them cuddled up together and Oliver grooming Marshmallow. Recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Abraham Lincoln by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

I had heard of the authors/illustrators before as they had written my favorite book on Norse mythology. This book has their awesome illustrations as well, which they did with a technique called stone lithography. This book won the 1940 Caldecott Award. Considering the only other book I’ve read from that year is “Madeline” by Ludwig Bemelmans, I don’t have a lot of comparison as to whether it deserved to win or not. I thought the story was good, though a bit longer than it needed to be, and was surprised that they didn’t mention the president’s death. I mean you don’t have to say that he was shot in the head, but I’m sure they could’ve said something like ” A man who didn’t agree with the president and his ideals killed him in Ford’s Theater, blah blah blah.” In fact, the story about the Lincoln ends after the Civil War ended. There is a lot on his birth, childhood and early adulthood. It is interesting to note that while I’ve been reading this to my son, I’m also reading “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” on my own. Anyways, I would recommend this book for kids ages 5-11, 3 stars.

Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field

The author wrote this prayer for her daughter Hannah, and I thought it was sweet. It won the 1945 Caldecott Medal, no doubt for the loving way the little girl prays for her bed, toys, shoes, furniture, friends and family, and all children everywhere. The full prayer is in the beginning and then it is broken up with illustrations throughout the book. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Rain Drop Splash by Alvin Tresselt

This book won a 1947 Caldecott Honor award. I enjoyed this simple tale of the sounds of rain and how a little can turn into a puddle and eventually make it down to the sea. Great book to read aloud, as the kids can see and hear how the rain effects the animals and people of the story. Recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Many Moons by James Thurber

This book won the 1944 Caldecott, but this must’ve been another year where there wasn’t much competition. I liked the book, though the story drones on for a bit. The book tells the story of a princess who falls ill and wants the moon, but all of her father’s advisors say that the moon is impossible to get, until he asks the Court Jester, who takes a more logical-to-a-child approach to the situation. She gets her moon and gets well again. The next night, when the moon reappears, the king is frantically worried and consults all of his advisors again, who don’t provide a good solution. The Court Jester just goes up and asks the princess what she thinks of the new moon and she says that of course there is a new moon, because when you take something away like teeth or flowers, there are always something of the same sort to replace it. This book, like “Frederick” by Leo Lionni, can be taught in the classroom as part of a philosophical discussion: Recommended for ages 6-9, 3 stars.

The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss

This book won a 1950 Caldecott Honor, but like “Bartholomew and the Ooblecks,” which also won a honor that year, I don’t agree with the award. The story is very simple. All the animals, birds and insects of the forest are hibernating for the winter until spring arrives. I liked the black and white illustrations, esp the snails. Recommended for ages 1-7, 2 stars.

The Rooster Grows: a Book of American Rhymes and Jingles by Maud and Miska Petersham

This book won the 1946 Caldecott medal, which makes me wonder how bad the other books of this year were for this to win. The only reason I didn’t give this one star was because I liked the illustrations. The rhymes were primarily nursery rhymes which mostly didn’t originate in America, but rather in England. I’d never heard of most of the counting rhymes and they butchered “Ring around the Rosy.” I didn’t care for their selection as most were odd or morbid. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

There was one rhyme that I hadn’t heard of, and wasn’t sure of the purpose of it, but I enjoyed it and wanted to share:
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is blythe and bonny and good and gay.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

As I was reading this earlier today, I realized that I had seen it before, though I’d never read the book. In the 1950s, the Walt Disney Company made an animated short about the book, which was pretty much taken directly from the book. This book won the 1943 Caldecott Award. This was a cute story about a little house that is built in the country in the 1870s/80s and loves growing up with the children where there is lots of room and she (the house) is surrounded by apple trees and daisies. As time passes, the city, which was so far away she could barely see it, gets closer and closer. Until it is modern times (the 1940s) and she is smack dab in the middle of downtown surrounded by high-rises, the trains and traffic. It is then that she is rescued by the great-great granddaughter of the original owner/builder of the Little House, who decides to move her back to the country, where she will be more comfortable and where she belongs. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty

This book won a 1939 Caldecott honor award. It is based off the Aesop’s fables of the Lion and Mouse and Androcles and the Lion. The book tells the story of Andy, a young boy who loves to read and check out library books, his current fascination being lions. One day on the way to school, he finds a lion with a thorn in his paws, which Andy quickly take out and they go their separate ways. Later in the spring, the circus comes to town and Andy is excited to see the lion show. Suddenly, the lions escape and just as Andy is about to be eaten by one, his lion recognizes him and they are so happy to see each other. Andy is awarded a medal for bravery and the lion follows him to the library the next day to get more books. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Little Red Riding Hood retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Trina Schart Hyman’s favorite story as a young girl was Little Red Riding Hood. Her mother even mader her own red velvet cape. Therefore it was natural for her create her own version, in which the illustrator as a child is the model for Elisabeth or Little Red Riding Hood. It is no surprise that this book won the Caldecott Honor in 1984. The rich details in the main painted illustrations themselves, along with the border details and patterns, just make the story that much more interesting. Recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

I have fallen in love with Ezra Jack Keat’s books ever since seeing an exhibit on the author, done by the DeGrummond Children’s Literature Collection at University of Southern Mississippi (who has the complete archives of the author). It is the story about a young boy named Peter who goes out to play in the snow, makes tracks, and snow angels. He tries so hard to keep a snowball till the next day, but it melts. What was revolutionary about this book that won 1963 Caldecott Medal, according to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation website, is that the book “broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing.” It was the first time a book featuring an African-American child had been taken seriously. Peter appears as a 4 year old in this book and he goes on to star in 6 more of the author’s books, and grows up along the way.

It is also a cool book because of the collage illustrations, according to the Foundation’s biography on the author, which used “cutouts of patterned paper, fabric and oilcloth; homemade snowflake stamps; spatterings of India ink with a toothbrush—were methods Ezra had never used before. “I was like a child playing,” he wrote of the creation process.” I think part of what makes the book so successful is the fact that the illustrations do look like a child, perhaps even the main character himself, created them. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 5 stars.

Goggles! by Ezra Jack Keats

While I had heard of the author, I had never heard of this book, nor the fact that it had won a 1970 Caldecott Honor award. This is a continuation of the Peter story, started in “The Snowy Day.” Peter and his best friend Archie are playing in the city, when they find a pair of motorcycle goggles, which they think are super cool. On the way over to Archie’s house, they run into a gang of older boys who demand the goggles, but with some quick thinking thanks to Archie and his dog Willie, they manage to escape the boys with the prize. This is a good book about dealing with bullies. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

A Child’s Good Night Book by Margaret Wise Brown

This book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor award, and I like it better than Goodnight Moon (which I’ve always thought was over-rated). This book is also a bedtime story, and as you read along, all sorts of animals, birds, fish and finally children get sleepy and go to bed. I enjoyed the prayer at the end: “Dear Father, hear and bless thy beasts and singing birds, and guard with tenderness small things that have no words.” Compared to Goodnight Moon, this book has better illustrations, done with hand-drawn lithographic plates by Parisian artist Jean Charlot, who also illustrated another Wise Brown book entitled Two Little Trains. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni

I think this one might be my favorite Leo Lionni book. This book won a 1970 Caldecott Honor award. Alexander is a real mouse that no one likes and is lonely, until he discovers Willy, the wind-up mouse. Everyone loves him and he even gets to sleep in a child’s bed next to the stuffed animals on the pillow. Alexander comes to love him as well and spends all his free time playing with Willy. Willy tells him of a lizard magician who lives in the garden and grants wishes, so Alexander finds him, does the task that he asks and ends up with a real mouse friend. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

Young Adult

The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl #8) by Eoin Colfer

This book started off with a bang and ended with a shocker. It was a quick read for me because after starting the Artemis Fowl series a few years ago, I have fallen in love with the character. In this volume, the evil pixie Opal Kolboi has planned her most dastardly plan of all, which involves her opening the dreaded Berserker Gate (filled with the spirits of bloodthirsty fairy warriors) located under Fowl Manor and trying to get to the second gate which will unleash the wrath of a god and kill all humans. These spirits have inhabited the bodies of Artemis’s little brothers and Butler’s sister Julia. It is up to Holly, Artemis and Butler to stop her and the Berserkers, with a little side help from Foaly and Mulch riding a troll. The ending was a bit surprising, and I’m hoping it is the last book in the series. Because of the graphic deaths in the beginning and the end, I wouldn’t recommend this for children (even though it was filed there in my library), but rather for ages 12+, 4 stars.


Lizzie Siddal: Face of the Pre-Raphaelites by Lucinda Hawksley

I have been fascinated with Pre-Raphaelites since I first saw an exhibition of them in the Tate. My favorite PRB member is Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and since she was his lover and muse for so long, of course I had heard of her. Lizzie Siddal was a tragic and depressed woman, partly of her own making and partly because Rossetti was a douchebag who promised to marry her for 8 years and then only did so because she was dying (she got better). His influence, although harmful in the long run, did her some good as it encouraged her to write poetry, do sketches and eventually paint. Plus it earned her a patron for awhile, the famous art collector John Ruskin. Sadly most of her work is lost. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, which not only told the story of Lizzie Siddal but also a bit of gossip about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and its artists and associates, enough to make it interesting. It’s sad to note that Lizzie’s death could’ve possibly been prevented if only she hadn’t relied so much on laudanum (which was basically the aspirin of the day and doctors prescribed it for any ailment) and Rossetti would’ve stopped being such a philanderer and either married her right off or told her he wasn’t interested in marriage from the get-go. It is interesting to note that Lizzie was essentially the world’s first supermodel and popularized red hair, which before that was seen as the mark of the devil. Highly recommended, 4 stars.

The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch, #1) by Jason Goodwin

I really enjoyed the first book in the series and the introduction to Yashim, the impromptu detective for the sultan and yes, a eunuch. The book was set in the Ottoman Empire in 1836 and you can tell the author knows his stuff. He really goes into great detail about the past history of the empire and how the Turks were trying to change with the influences of the European powers and modernize not only their culture, but also their military. Yashim is called to the palace by the commander of the New Guards and told about 4 missing officers, one of which has already turned up killed in a gruesome fashion. He must find the officers and try to prevent their deaths, as well as trying to help the sultan’s mother find her stolen jewels and figure out who murdered one of the harem girls. The Janissaries were a group of mercenaries that made up the might of the Ottoman army for hundreds of years. They were gotten rid of during a coup about 10 years previous to the story, but Yashim believes they might be resposible for the murder, but he needs more proof. Lots of twists and turns I wasn’t expecting and good ending. Can’t wait to read more of the series! Highly recommended, 5 stars.

The Snake Stone (Yashim the Eunuch, #2) by Jason Goodwin

This book was another excellent mystery about Yashim and his adventures in nineteenth century Turkey. I love the attention to detail about Ottoman history (this time it was set right before the death of Sultan)and the cooking done by Yashim through the book just makes your mouth water. This time, the book is set in 1839. Yashim is trying to find out who attached his friend the vegetable seller George, who killed a bookseller in the marketplace and a French archaelogist named Max Lefevre. Yashim meets Lefevre twice before his death and is trying to clear his name after he ends up a suspect in the Frenchman’s death. Will Yashim be able to find the killer in time? How is Lord Byron, who died at Missolonghi during the Greek war of Independence, connected to the victim? Read this great second mystery in the Yashim the Eunuch series to find out! 5 stars.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

I wasn’t sure how to review this, which is why I left it for so long. The book read pretty much like it was taken straight from the Gospels, with a few crucial changes. The basic premise is that Mary gave birth to not just Jesus, but also a twin brother named Christ. Despite the title, Jesus is the rascally one growing up, and it is Christ who saves him from trouble all the time. It is Christ who comes up with the idea of a church, but Jesus doesn’t think it should work like that. Christ is the one who hears the voice of God, not Jesus. But Jesus is the chosen one, the one everyone calls “King of the Jews”. I can’t give away too much plot or else ruin the story. But suffice it to say, that Jesus’s rant in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he dies actually makes a lot of sense. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who won’t read this book because they think it is blasphemous, but as the author himself said in 2010 after someone asked if the book was offensive:
“It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That’s all I have to say on that subject.”

If you would like more info on the book, check out this review done by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: 3 1/2 stars.

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan

I will admit that I originally picked this up for the recipes, because I love Persian food. Once, I got into it though, the story was excellent as well. It is a memoir about the author and her parents, and starts with Donia cleaning up her mother’s kitchen after her death. From there she tells her story and how so many of her memories were wrapped up in food, especially those of her mother. The author tells of her childhood and early teen years growing up in Tehran, Iran with her parents and sisters. Her parents owned a hospital where her father was the doctor and her mother a nurse. When Donia was 16 and on vacation with her family, they found about the Islamic Revolution on the radio and because of her mother’s political involvement, decided to send Donia to America to finish high school while they tried to get visas to come over as well. Donia eventually decided that she wanted to become a chef and went to France to study at Le Cordon Bleu and various other restaurants. In the end, she ends up opening her own restaurant, with Persian, American and French influences, which runs for 10 years. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower

Despite the trashy cover, it is actually a pretty good book…if you can wade your way through it. Let me explain. The story is about a young Spanish girl named Esther, whose family is Jewish and trying to escape Spain right before the Inquisition, when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand gave the Jews a few months to get out of the country. Her mother dies along the way and the girl grows up in Rome. Her father works for the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, and has managed to get Esther a place in the household of Lucrezia Borgia, who is about to be married to her third husband, Alfonso d’Este. Esther must convert to Christianity and her name is changed to Donata (and later Violante). Almost immediately, she falls for Duke Valentino, Lucrezia’s brother Cesare, but he is married and has many mistresses. I personally like all the behind-the-scenes intrigue that goes on in this household before and after Lucrezia marries Alfonso, it just makes the book more interesting. Violante eventually does grab his attention, but things don’t exactly come out as planned. I will admit, that I didn’t make it completely through his book because I started losing interest as the story continued to drag on. I mean nearly 300 pages into it and the pope dies, but the story keeps going. But overall, I enjoyed it. It does make me want to read a biography on Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia though, as I find them the most fascinating. 3 stars.

Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion by Alice Currah

So my favorite food blogger, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, recommended this cookbook after using it herself. I’d never heard of the blog “Savory Sweet Life,” but I figured I would give the cookbook a try. The author is a mother of three so most of the recipes are simple and easy to make, a big plus in my book. Recipes like Cinnamon Coffee Cake Muffins, Coconut Chicken Tenders, Thai Marinated Grilled Chicken Skewers with Peanut Coconut Sauce, Mango Frozen Yogurt Pops, and Eggnog Coffee are easy enough to make, plus there are some challenging recipes like the one for Cinnamon Rolls and the All-Occasion Vanilla Cake with Buttercream Frosting and Sour Cream Raspberry Filling that look like they could be keepers. Highly recommended, 4 stars.

Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes by Michael Natkin

I found out about this cookbook through stumbling upon the author’s website while looking up information on Middle Eastern spices, and then was again recommended it by the lady in charge of the Savory Sweet Life blog, whose cookbook I also recently reviewed. I thought the author had a wealth of new and interesting vegetarian dishes that even meat-eaters could appreciate. Some of them were a bit over the top, but there were a good solid 13 or so recipes that I would love to try. Recipes such as the Garlic Miso Broth, Ten-Minute Chickpea Salad with Feta and Basil, Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto, Vietnamese Bun with Ginger-Grapefruit Sauce, Stuffed and Baked Polenta and several more all looked very tasty. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes from Veggiestan by Sally Butcher

I loved this one, but then again I love Middle Eastern Food so I had a feeling that I would enjoy this cookbook. It’s not just the food, but the tips, bits of history, herbal remedies, cheese of the region, and spice mixes scattered throughout the book, as well as the additional reading resources in the back of the book. The author has a unique perspective of a London food writer married to an Iranian, so it is like an outsider’s viewpoint on the food and culture, which is nice when you are one. There are more traditional recipes like Turkish Pide (hollow bread made with yogurt that can occupy any number of fillings) and Persian Jeweled Rice with Barberries and spices. Then there are more interesting incarnations of Middle Eastern food that I’ve not seen before, like Cucumber and Pomegranate Salsa, Figs and Halloumi, Carrot and Cardamom Soup, Sweet Hummus, and Pumpkin Jam with Garam Masala. Overall, a very interesting cookbook and one I would love to own. 5 stars.

Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast: Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities, and Country Villages Across the British Isles by Brian Yarvin

I originally picked this up for my hubby, who is English, as we are always on the lookout for good British cookbooks. It was written by an American who is fascinated by British traditional food and culture, thus making a thorough study of the countries it contains. It was cool because the week before my hubby had a Full English Breakfast at one of few British-run establishments in the area and we were talking about making British beans for my son, and then I opened this cookbook and that was one of the first recipes I found. Anyways, a lot of the recipes I marked were not for things I had heard of before, but new things, like: Staffordshire Oatcakes, Dumplings and Mince, Lamp Dopiaza, Tofu Tikka Masala, Fidget Pie, and Cumberland Pudding. They even had a recipe for homemade Clotted Cream, which is normally like $6-9 for a small imported jar in the States. I liked that he done so much research on the cuisine and highlighted items such as British bacon, tea, Haggis, the awesome food markets in London and pubs, just to name a few. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

Traditional Country Cooking: 90 Timeless Farmhouse Recipes Using Fresh, Natural Ingredients by Sarah Banberry

This was an English cookbook masquerading as “country cooking,” and the recipes were pretty traditional in that respect. I will say they do have some nice accompanying photos in the book. I marked a couple of recipes. 2 stars.

Re-Creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Items Into Contemporary Design  by Steve Dodds

I like the idea of using found items to make new things, so this book seemed like a perfect instruction to get started on that. I was disappointed by the lack of really cool projects and the fact that most of them you would need a professional for because I’m sure I couldn’t do them on my own. I did like the ideas for the CPU computer cover case table, the Wine Crate Table, Stone Drawer Pulls, Electric Fan/Wok Lid Bowls, Tin Can Pen Rack, and the CD Case Photo Display. 3 stars.

The Big-Ass Book of Crafts by Mark Montano

I picked this one up after browsing around the craft section looking for re-usable crafting. Despite the fact that there are “more than 150 crafts to fill your home, give to friends, decorate the yard, or send to Mom,” I found most of them to ugly and impractical. The author obviously doesn’t have small children or pets, as most of his designs would be destroyed by one or both of these. I did find some good designs/products here, such as the Relaxing Bath Crystal Body Scrub, Foot Balm and homemade Toothpaste, Bound Journals, Marble Mason Jar Lamp, Domino Side Table, Glass-Chip Magnets, and the Wineglass Candleholders or Vases. 2 stars.

I hadn’t done an art post in a while, and I felt inspired. When most people think of Bernini, they think of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, which featured the sculptures of Bernini as part of a Illuminati conspiracy. I first fell in love with Bernini sculptures in 2002, when I was doing a study-abroad to Italy during my junior year in university. The group I was touring with was spending 5 days in Rome, and I was getting up-close-and-personal with a lot of artwork that I had been studying in art history (my undergraduate degree) and the class I was taking on Italian Renaissance art, though we saw a lot of Baroque art as well. One of the first places we visited was the Galleria Borghese, the former home of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who was a patron of Bernini. So it is fitting that four of Bernini’s sculptures are still there today. Before I get into talking about the sculptures, I should probably explain what exactly Baroque art is so you can better understand the artist’s works. Baroque, according to this page on Getty’s educational department website, is “the European artistic style of the 1600s, targeted the senses using virtuosity and realism, reaching the mind through emotion rather than reason. Baroque art has qualities of theatricality, movement, and exuberance.” After Renaissance art, Baroque art is my second favorite time period of European art.

Anyways, on to the sculptures. At the Villa Borghese, they have two amazing sculptures that I just fell in love with. First is Pluto and Proserpina, also known as The Rape of Proserpina. I find this piece so amazing because even though the subject matter has been done over and over by so many artists, Bernini seems to have done something new with it. The sculpture looks as if it has been frozen in time. Pluto grips the fleshy thighs of Proserpina (aka Persephone/Kore) even as she cries out to the heavens for help, and he is abducting her and taking her to the Underworld to be his bride. You can see the anguish on her face and her windblown hair. The three-headed dog Cerberus is at Pluto’s feet. In this piece, you can see a true Baroque work of art, with the movement and the way it is so full of life and emotion.

Pluto and Proserpina, 1621-22

The second is Apollo and Daphne. Another mythological tale, this one is about the god Apollo chasing after the chaste nymph Daphne, who turns into a laurel tree as she flees. To understand more of the story, I turn to Encyclopedia Mythica, which says that the whole story started after Apollo said that Eros’s (aka Cupid’s), arrows had no real effect on anyone. To prove him wrong, he shot two arrows “one tipped in gold, one blunted and tipped with lead. The arrow dipped in gold had the power to create insatiable lust in a person, while the other created absolute abhorrence towards all things romantic and passionate. The unfortunate soul who was struck with that arrow would have no desire to love anyone. The arrow dipped in gold struck Apollo, but the arrow dipped in lead struck fair Daphne. Daphne was the daughter of the river-god Peneus. Apollo chased down the maiden, desperate for her love, but she wanted nothing to do with him, and she ran from him endlessly. Soon, she grew weary in her running and that Apollo would ultimately catch her. Fearful, she called out to her father for help. As all gods of water posses the ability of transformation, Peneus transformed his daughter into a laurel tree.” The sculpture captures Daphne’s final moments, as Apollo reaches out to catch her and she is growing leaves and branches to transform into a tree.  We see the theatricality of the piece in the way she is turning from the god, and the way his cloak billows in the wind. I thought it was interesting to learn, as I was researching for this post on the Galleria Borghese website, that in order for Cardinal Borghese to justify owning such a pagan piece of art, he got another cardinal to compose a moral couplet about it. It read “Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands,” which basically translates into don’t go seeking earthly pleasures because things will end badly for you.

Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25

My next favorite piece is located in a small chapel off the church Santa Maria Della Vittoria. It is the Ecstasy of St Teresa. Now this piece can be interpreted many ways, depending on who is looking at it. The original idea for the piece came from St Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, which explains how “an angel carrying a fire-tipped spear with which he pierces her heart repeatedly, an act that sends her into a state of spiritual rapture. ‘The pain,’ she writes, ‘was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul then content with anything but God.’ (The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by herself, Chapter 29)” Even though the saint is basically receiving a vision from God during this scene, and this is the way her body is reacting to the presence of God, the piece can also easily be analyzed in a sexual light, as the author of this post explains. “To a common eye, how can the boy not be perceived as part angel and part cupid?  The arrow is pointing toward her center. He is above her at the moment of her altered emotional state. And regardless of the historical wishes of the patrons who commissioned this work, it appears Bernini was intent on portraying ecstasy – regardless if the ecstasy came from spiritual or sexualHeavenly or Earthly, or tactile or cognitive sources or stimulations.The sculpture is a congress of the spiritual and the sexual.  The sculpture may often confuse those who wish only to see the spiritual.  And the sculpture may put a knowing expression on the faces of those who have experienced the sexual, the physical – the rush of tactile, emotional, and coital intoxication.” I see it as a beautiful work of art, with a mix of both religion and sensuality.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52

The final piece that I would like to discuss is Bernini’s Baldacchino over the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. This work is really part sculpture/part architecture, but I think it is worthy of including just for the sheer size as well as the interesting back story. Baldacchino basically translates into large canopy. It is very impressive to see, being over 95 ft tall and done in the bronze taken from the roof of the Pantheon. The base of the Baldacchino rest on four marble pedestals which feature the coat of arms of the Barbarini family, the family of the Pope (Urban VIII). The spiral columns are supposed to signify the column of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. According to this blog, “In the original fourth century church, the tomb and altar were surrounded by a ciborium of spiral columns called “Solomonic columns.” Some believe that these columns were the actual columns from Solomon’s Temple, later imported by Constantine. The four columns have also been said to represent the Four Evangelists. In Christian tradition, the Four Evangelists refer to authors of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” The top part of the columns are decorated with olive and bay leaves, symbols of the Barbarini family, instead of the traditional grape vines. The top of the Baldacchino has four bronze angels at each corner of the canopy. There’s more to the design, but I’m trying to keep this post relatively short.

The interesting thing that I found out from that blog post was the use of bees, another symbol of the Barbarini family but also a spiritual one. I had never heard of bees as a spiritual symbol, so I investigated. According to this website, “bees, like the clergy and religious men and women in the Church, work unceasingly for the common good of the hive and obey without question their superiors, and above all their queen. The bee is also a symbol of wisdom, for it collects nectar from many flowers and turns it into nourishing and pleasing honey, which is the ‘gold’ of bees.  The symbolism of bees also signifies the way the Church generates her spiritual fruits because bees are virginal, they don’t have any sexual contact (1). As the Church gives grace through the purity of her divine Sacraments, so the bees give us honey and wax by the labor of their pure bodies. This is why their wax, considered the fruit of a virgin labor, is worthy to burn in the candles on the altar at the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.” Very interesting.

Baldacchino, 1624-33

The Closure of the GA State Archives

I figured I ought to comment on this, since I still know so many people in the area and it made me a bit mad. So the state government of Georgia has decided to close the Georgia State Archives to the public as of Nov 1, 2012. They are still allowing people to come by appointment, but even that will be limited. And I have no idea if they have an online database of their collection either. I think this closure is a huge injustice for everyone, whether you are just fascinated with history or want to research your genealogy. Having worked in the South Carolina State Archives, I know how much of a budget issue they have there and how they’ve stripped the staff so much that there is hardly anyone working there. While I don’t condone Georgia’s behavior, I feel like it will only set a precedence for other states having budget crises’ to do the same thing (which let’s be honest is pretty much all US states these days). To learn more about this issue, check out this article on The Unquiet LibrarianThere is also a petition going to the governor to open the Archives back up to the public. I’ve already signed it, as I think it is the right thing to do. There’s also this Facebook page created by the lady who started the petition.

So I apologize for dropping off the face of the planet for awhile there, dear readers, but personal life has been rather stressful lately. Again with the money problems and still no job (didn’t get last library job I interviewed for). I am trying not to dwell on the negative but focus on good stuff. I finally found a job opening for youth services position, only the second I’ve ever found here in the Valley (of the Sun, as they call Phoenix) since I moved here, and the first full-time position. So fingers crossed on getting that job interview.

Despite being constantly rejected for even the most basic job in a library, it is still a place of refuge where I like to go when I’m stressed out and relax and pick out new books to read and movies to watch. My son loves to play in the children’s section. I love having a library card and it is always one of the first things I pick up when I move to a new area. I got one for Liam too, and even though he doesn’t appreciate it now, he will when he gets older. September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month, so go to your local public library and get a free library card. Usually you just need proof of address (a piece of mail with your name/address on it) and/or a driver’s license. Check out this list of 60 things you can do with a library card, which includes: checking out a pass to a city museum (such as the Phoenix Culture Pass), getting help with homework, downloading an e-book, and using free Wi-Fi.

I’m sure most people noticed the Google Doodle this weekend, celebrating 46 years of the first broadcast of Star Trek. While I very much enjoy Star Wars, I also love Star Trek. I never really got into the original show, a bit too over the top for me, I grew up watching Star Trek: Next Generation. I am currently re-watching the entire series of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on Netflix. George Takei, who most people know as Sulu on the original Star Trek show, is someone I follow on Facebook . I think he is hilarious, and I love this quote he posted recently from Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek: “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins to not just tolerate, but also take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in lifeforms.”

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