Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review: Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

I reviewed Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood a couple of weeks ago; Persepolis 2 picks up immediately where the first book leaves off. Marjane is 14 when this novel begins, sent by her parents to live in Austria. Her life in Austria is one unfortunate event after another as she learns to navigate a secular society, where she is a foreigner. Although she is brilliant and does well in school, she eventually lives on the streets for a few months. She is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted by the time she finally reunited with her family back in Iran. For the first several months back in Iran, she is withdrawn and morose. She wants someone to understand how much she has suffered in Austria. Eventually, though, she realizes that her suffering was largely brought on by her own poor choices, while her fellow Iranians have suffered tragedy upon tragedy caused by war.

The book is fantastic. As I said in my review of the first book, I love the graphic format of the novel. My son has watched the movie Persepolis, which he says is a combination of both Persepolis books, following the books quite closely but leaving out lots of scenes. I think I'll skip the movie, however. The images in the book were powerful enough for me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Late Night Delivery in a Dark Alley

Earlier this week I posted a review of the final two books of the Twilight series, in which I declared, "… you might feel a bit cheap after reading them." I ended the review by indicating I'd be reading something with "more substance" next. This was all stated after I admitted my own addiction to the books. My friend Michelle, who got me started with the whole Twilight reading spree and supplied the books, told me she felt like I was a secret junkie and she my dealer after reading my review. I loved that.

So I told her (quietly, so that no one could overhear) that I needed to borrow New Moon (the second in the series) again, as I've now hooked my husband on the series. That night she called me and told me that she'd left a present in my mailbox. Here's what I found:

New Moon, carefully disguised as a great work. I love people with a literary (or not) sense of humor! (If you don't know how to play Mad Gab, just keep saying the author's name over until it sounds like a word. For me.)

Thanks, Michelle! You made me laugh really hard!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review: Eclipse and Breaking Dawn

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven't written a review in over a week because I had to get through the last two books in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. I wanted to write one review of the two together, mostly because I don't have a whole lot to say about this wildly popular series that hasn't been said in a thousand other reviews.

Yes, the books aren't terribly well written but they do get better. Yes, they books are addictive. I still can't say that I understand the absolutely obsession with the series, but it was fun. Should you read them if you haven't? Fantastic beach reading. Interesting and satisfying in an everything-wraps-up-nicely kind of way. But you might feel a bit cheap after reading them.

Now onto something with a bit more substance...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book Review: Persepolis

I've had this graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi on my TBR list for quite some time. Reading it became unavoidable, however, when my son began taking English 1010 at the local community college. Persepolis is the common book used by all the English 1010 classes; each instructor then creates his/her own course using this book in some way. For my son's class, the novel served as the only text, and all the projects and essays centered on various components of the novel.

I've learned a lot as my son progressed through the class. I didn't know much about the Islamic Revolution. "The Shah" was a word I heard now and then when I was a kid, but I had no real concept of what was going on. While I growing up playing kickball at Prospect Avenue school in upstate New York, Marjane Satrapi was the same age and being told she had to wear a veil and could no longer play with boys. While my parents were hoping my Dad got tenured, Marjane's parents were hoping they didn't get imprisoned and tortured. I am, again, struck with the blessings and ease of my simple life.

I have to say I love the format of the graphic novel. The stark black drawings communicate powerful feelings and expressions; it's a perfect medium for conveying the story of Satrapi's childhood. It's a quick read but the images have stuck with me vividly. The power of the written word paired with drawings is amazing.

I'm looking forward to reading Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return as soon as I can find it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Reading Poetry with Children

Whatever you do, find ways to read poetry. Eat it, drink it, enjoy it, and share it.”
~Eve Merriam

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I find it hard to call myself a "writer" but that is what I am at the core, and even more specifically, I am a writer of poetry. Sadly, poetry is terribly misunderstood because most of us read so much incomprehensible poetry when we were in school and learned to dislike it. During this month, I'll be tossing out poetry suggestions every now and then. For now, here is a repost from last year about poetry for children:

Before I list my favorite books written specifically for children, let me emphasize that you don't have to stick with "kids' poetry" when reading to your children. In other words, some poets write specifically for a younger audience--much of Jack Prelutsky, for example. But poetry doesn't have to rhyme and be about cute kitties or dog poop to appeal to children (although rhyming bodily functions certainly can heighten a child's appreciation of poetry).

Along those lines, I highly recommend A Treasury of Poetry for Young People. This contains poems selected with a younger audience (5th grade and up) in mind by some of the best-known poets: Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There is a two or three page introduction of each author before his/her section of poetry. The illustrations are simple and beautiful. Notes at the bottom of each page give a very brief commentary on each poem. For example, at the end of the familiar Frost poem "The Road Not Taken," the note simply states: "We all know the feel of a cool autumn day, when we can shuffle our feet through fallen leaves and kick up the smells of the season. This is a poem about such a walk, about coming to a fork in the path, and about making choices in our lives."

For a wider variety of poets, I recommend the Poetry for Young People Series. These books are also published by Sterling Publishing, like the one above, but each books features a different poet. Scholastic often has these titles in their monthly sale fliers for home or school. Featured authors include: Robert Browning, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and all the ones mentioned above.

One more collection I really love for kids: The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, edited by Donald Hall. This one takes a chronological approach to American poetry, beginning with the Native American cradle song, "Chant to the Fire-Fly" and ending with the contemporary poetry of Sandra Cisneros and Janet S. Wong. I love the diversity offered in this collection: poetry isn't all written by white guys and reclusive women. And one of my personal favorites is included here: Nikki Giovanni's "Knoxville, Tennessee." Even if you don't live around these parts, you and your children can surely relate to Giovanni's ode to the pure bliss of summertime.

Of course, you can get out your old copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry and just pick out age-appropriate poems from some of the world's best poets of all time. What? You don't have an old Norton's Anthology? Run to your nearest used bookstore or Goodwill and pick one up. Please. You never know when you might need to read T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":
I grow old. . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trouser rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.

But I digress. Moving on to poetry written specifically for children, I must present my four favorites: Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Eve Merriam, and Valerie Worth. Does anyone not know Shel Silverstein's works? Silverstein, who died in 1999, is the king of children's poetry. His website is great fun, and you can read all about his works there. You local library will have every book; better yet, buy at least a couple. No family library can possibly be complete with A Light in the Attic or Where the Sidewalk Ends. If your kids hear the word "poetry" and cover their ears, try reading "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out' to them. They will want to hear more.

Jack Prelutsky also has a gift for luring children in with the absurd. He knows how to engage children with the silly, absurd, and irresistibly disgusting:
Slime, slime,
Savory slime,
you're luscious and succulent
any old time,
there's hardly a thing
that is nearly as grand
as a dollop of slime
in the palm of my hand.

Prelutsky also has a great website, where you can read all about him and his books and get teaching ideas, too.

The poet Eve Merriam loved language--loved the sound of words alone and in combination with other words. When I read her poetry, I imagine how carefully she chose each word. From her widely anthologized "Lullaby":

Purple as a king's cape
Purple as a grape.

Purple for the evening
When daylight is leaving.

Soft and purry,

Gentle and furry,

Velvet evening-time.
I have a cassette tape of Merriam reading some of her poetry; when my oldest was little, this was one of his favorites. Check out your local library or for poetry by Eve Merriam, including You Be Good and I'll Be Night and A Sky Full of Poems.

One last poet who might be less familiar but who also takes great care in crafting poetry: Valerie Worth. In the wonderful All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, Worth turns every day things--animal, vegetable and mineral--into exquisite works of art. This is a fantastic collection for teaching personification, metaphor and simile, and for emphasizing the power of observation and the craft of language.
The sun
is a leaping fire
too hot
to go near,
But it will still
lie down
in warm yellow squares
on the floor
lie a flat
quilt, where
the cat can curl
and purr.

This is just a tiny taste of the wonderful feast that is the world of poetry. Surf the internet and shuffle through the library bookshelves. If you had a bad experience with poetry in your own schooling, try again--with your child. I promise, you'll both find something you love.

(For more posts on Children's Book Day and National Poetry Month, check out Dewey's Weekly Geeks.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Review: New Moon

She wore me down. After I gave Twilight a mediocre review, stressing that I enjoyed it but I didn't understand what the big hype is about, my friend Michelle handed me New Moon and insisted that I read it. So I gave it to my teenager to read. He said it was much worse than the first one, so I didn't read it. But week after week Michelle asked me if I'd read it, so I finally did.

And I liked it! It's certainly not great literature, but something clicked for me in the second book. While I still can't say I get the hype, I really did like the book enough to move almost immediately into the third in the series, which I'm halfway through now.

This past weekend we rented the movie Twilight, and surprisingly, my husband (who hasn't read the books), son and I all liked it. I thought Bella was perfect, and I liked the stuttering dialogue.

So I took this quiz on Facebook, and if you're on Facebook you know those quizzes I'm talking about, that was something like "What American novel are you?" I thought for sure I'd be To Kill a Mockingbird. But wouldn't you know it? I was Twilight. I may need therapy for that.