Archive for October, 2011

October 28, 2011

All Hallow’s Read

by renata

Halloween is approaching! I hope you all have your costumes lined up. Are you going as a spooky literary character, like Mrs. Havisham or Dracula or Claudia Kishi’s accessory drawer? I hope so!

Have you heard about All Hallow’s Read? Probably you have because Neil Gaiman started it and Neil Gaiman is directly plugged in to the hive mind of the internet. Seriously. Neil Gaiman is reading your thoughts right now. And he’s tweeting about them.

Anyway, the gist of All Hallow’s Read is that you should give someone a scary book for Halloween! Oooo! I am trying to think of scary books I like. In general, I am not a big fan of scary books. I am what you might call “high-strung” and I don’t need to be reading about ghosts or vampires or whatever to raise my blood pressure. Anyway, if I want to be terrified, I’ll just watch Fox News. (Zing!!) Still, in the spirit of Halloween, I tried to come up with some of my favorite scary reads.

the witches

Noooo witches noooo!

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Eek! Environmental destruction! Totalitarian theocracy! Forced illiteracy! What could be scarier?
  • Sandman #6: 24 Hours by Neil Gaiman. This is collected in Preludes and Nocturnes. If you haven’t read Sandman yet, you are probably tired of people telling you to read Sandman. But seriously though, you should read Sandman. And read “24 Hours” if you want to be scared!
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl. This book is why I don’t trust anyone who wears pointy-toed shoes.
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I promise I will only buy eggs if I personally know the chickens!! I promise!! No stop telling me about where eggs come from! Noooo!
  • Eating Animals

    Nooooo corn-fed cattle nooooooo

    What are your favorite scary books? Tell me!! But if they are too scary you have to come over and hold my hand while I read them.

October 24, 2011

Music Monday: Dinosaur

by renata

You guys, I love Ke$ha. Were you aware? She’s just so consistently hilarious and trashy. Love her. So, naturally, this summer when I found myself with a group of young children whose group was called “the dinosaurs,” my first response was to chant the first two lines of Ke$ha’s brilliant song, “Dinosaur”:

D-I-N-O-S-A you are
A dinosaur!

But then, to my horror, a 9-year-old girl said, “That’s a Ke$ha song!”

In one of my uncoolest-ever grownup moments, I blurted, “You are way too young to listen to Ke$ha!”

“No I’m not! I have her CD!”

“Well!! Ke$ha is not camp appropriate so we’re not going to sing any more of that song, okay! I just wanted to make sure everyone knew how to spell dinosaur!”

Let’s revisit those lyrics, shall we?

D-I-N-O-S-A, you are a dinosaur
D-I-N-O-S-A, you are a dinosaur
An O-L-D M-A-N, you’re just an old man
Hitting on me, what? You need a CAT scan

Old man, why are you staring at me?
Mac on me and my friends, it’s kind creepy
You should be prowling around the old folks home
Come on dude, leave us alone

At first we thought that it was kinda ill when
We saw that you were like a billion
And still out tryna make a killing
Get back to the museum

Of course! Just what every nine-year-old girl needs to be listening to. Of course, the first CD I ever bought was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, and I was in 6th grade. I was listening to her sing about going down on someone in a theater and I had no clue what that meant. If you had forced me to define it I probably would have guessed that Alanis was sitting on someone‘s lap. And anyway, I thought “Ironic” was a way better song. So deep, Alanis!

So, although my inner old person feels that nine-year-olds need Ke$ha the way someone of legal drinking age needs a black fly in their chardonnay, the truth is that girl probably thinks the song is about actual dinosaurs.

T-rex

D-I-N-O-S-A you are a dinosaur

Kids have been listening to music that was “inappropriate” for them since Elvis. Or earlier. I don’t know, I’m not a music historian. I’m just an avid Ke$ha fan who will one day learn how to keep her mouth shut around tween girls.

October 21, 2011

Chime On You Crazy Diamond

by renata

So, anyone who follows YA lit at all has probably already heard about the Shine/Chime debacle. However, I know I have a few friends whose only real contact with the world of YA lit is through this blog, and so I feel honor-bound to report about this. Also, I think the story is hilarious.

Basically? The National Book Foundation accidentally nominated Shine by Lauren Myracle for the National Book Award, when instead they meant to nominate Chime by Franny Billingsley. Apparently, they read the list over the phone and someone misheard. I mean, Shine vs Chime I get, okay. But the author names? And nobody double-checked? Were they drunk?

Shine vs Chime

Same thing, right?

And then they asked Lauren Myracle to recuse herself from the award nominees. I mean, like she hadn’t already realized she wasn’t going to win it?

Of course, I feel sad for Lauren Myracle–what a letdown. She did get the NBF to donate some money to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, since Shine is about a gay victim of a hate crime.

Vanity Fair has a really nice interview with Myracle here.

I felt gutted. I felt embarrassed, and ashamed that I had the gall to believe that this book was worthy. So over the weekend came the question of, Do I withdraw, or do I let them strip it from me? I first thought: They made the mistake; they can clean it up. Then I realized that I had a chance to either be classy or be seen as someone gripping with white knuckles to something they didn’t want me to have. And I was going to be taken off the list regardless.

So I decided to step down, and that’s when we thought it would be nice to ask the National Book Foundation to make a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation—I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is where Matthew was medevac-ed after his assault in Wyoming, and he came to the hospital where all my kids had been born, and is right around the corner, all of which was very much in my mind when I was writing Shine. And they graciously agreed to donate $5,000 to the foundation. And that’s the one unsullied good thing that’s come out of this for me. And that’s more tangible good than a shiny gold sticker any day.

Anyway, so that’s nice. Way to be classy, Lauren Myracle.

I haven’t read either of the books–to be honest I’d never even heard of Franny Billingsley or Chime, but I’m sure they’re both good.

But like seriously, National Book Foundation. Nominating Shine instead of Chime? That would be implausible as a plot point on the Brady Bunch, let alone in real life in 2011 when we have e-mail and text messages and fax machines and just any number of ways to prevent this kind of thing from happening. It also makes me kind of question the validity of all awards that have ever been given out ever. Was Ship Breaker really supposed to win the Printz last year? Or did the power just go out and someone on the committee had to go and trip the breaker? Should A Sick Day For Amos McGee really have won the Caldecott, or did someone on the committee say, “Hey Miss, I have to pee”? We may never know.

October 17, 2011

Music Monday: Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

by renata

I might have mentioned before that I love Selena Gomez. It’s true! I do. This was one of the first songs of hers that I heard. It’s featured in Another Cinderella Story and I highly recommend it for working out or just listening to it and feeling sassier.

I actually just watched that video for the first time and it is kind of weird. Selena is both a sexy maid and a sexy referee? What is happening?

However, this, the official video, is not the version of the song I first heard. This is:

Did you listen to both? Did you catch the difference? Listen to the random rapper at 1:46. In the Disney version:

Selena hit the track, like a surfer making waves

In the original version?

Selena hit the track, like Katrina making waves

(Note: on this particular video there are completely mis-transcribed lyrics on screen. Trust me. It’s “like Katrina making waves.”)

Last summer, my friends and I listened to the original version a bunch and always laughed at that line. Was there seriously a Hurricane Katrina reference in this tween pop song? Or was it supposed to be a reference to Katrina and the Waves? (Obscure, but less offensive.)

Finally, we did some research and came up with this from Wikipedia:

“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” by Selena Gomez was released as a single on August 5, 2008 on iTunes[11] and a Radio Disney version (which removes the Hurricane Katrina reference) was released on September 9, 2008, on iTunes.

Controversial! Selena really is just like Hurricane Katrina.

October 14, 2011

Rock Me, Bartimaeus (and other thoughts on fantasy)

by renata

This week was FANTASY WEEK in my children’s literature class! We read: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt*, and Sector 7 by David Wiesner.

But I just want to talk about The Ring of Solomon. Jonathan Stroud was not at all on my radar until I saw him at the ALA conference this summer. (He was on a panel with David Levithan, which is why I went to that panel.) He was completely funny and charming and I made a note to myself that I should really pick up some of his books sometime. But there are just so many other books out there, and I never got around to it until it turned up on my booklist for class.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud

The Ring of Solomon is technically a prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, but we were assured that it stands on its own. And it does–I had no trouble understanding the character or the plot. He’s a bitter, immortal djinni. Got it. Others in class who had read the whole trilogy thought that Ring of Solomon was weaker than the other three, but I will have to take their word for it.

I enjoyed Ring of Solomon well enough. Bartimaeus, a world-weary, clever, sarcastic djinni, is a hilarious narrator, and his wry footnotes brought to mind a magical David Foster Wallace. The book itself, I feel, could have benefited from a better editor. It was maybe 100 pages too long. The first two thirds of the book dragged on, mired in description and long asides. The payoff was probably worth it–it had a very elaborate and satisfying ending.

Genie

You ain't never had a friend like Bartimaeus

I understand that there are some fantasy readers who love long descriptions of made-up worlds. I am not one of them. I don’t want to have to keep checking the magical glossary to see what kind of magic is happening. I do not want my books to come with maps of fictional lands. (Technically The Ring of Solomon has a map of the Middle East, which is probably a real place., although I’ve never been there.) But I know that not everyone shares these opinions. If you love magical glossaries and sassy genies, you will probably love the Bartimaeus books. For me, I give The Ring of Solomon three Robin Williamses out of a possible five.

For class, we also have to pick one classic children’ book we never got around to reading before. I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for this assignment. I’m only 2/3 through it so I won’t give it a full review, but so far, reading it has made me realize what I value in fantasy books: a sense of humor. Jonathan Stroud has one. J.K. Rowling has one. C.S. Lewis has one. Patricia Wrede has one. Terry Pratchett has at least two. If Ursula LeGuin has a sense of humor, she has that thing locked up in a dungeon somewhere and allowed it nowhere near A Wizard of Earthsea. Yikes.

* There was some debate about whether or not Tuck Everlasting is actually fantasy, and although it does not have unicorns or dragons, it does have a fountain of immortality, so.

October 10, 2011

Music Monday: Life’s What You Make It

by renata

Guys, somebody stole my laptop last night! To cheer myself up I am listening to mad tween pop. Join me, won’t you?

You’re so right, Ms. Montana. Life is what I make it. I shouldn’t let no small frustrations bring me down. I feel better already!

October 7, 2011

Review: Modelland

by renata

You guys. You GUYS. Modelland is 563 pages long. And I read them all. (Or skimmed some of them. Maybe. A little.) As we all expected, it is awful. It’s more… creatively awful than I might have expected.

Modelland

Modelland by Tyra Banks

Modelland takes place in some kind of bizarre fashion-themed dystopia. Girls growing up in this world can basically either aspire to be models or sweatshop employees. (Tyra’s description of factory life feels almost–but not quite–like social commentary. I suppose Tyra doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds her too hard.) Our protagonist is a girl named Tookie De La Creme. Tookie not only has an unfortunate name, but she has a horrible homelife. Her mother is emotionally abusive and clearly favors Tookie’s beautiful (but dumb) younger sister, Myrracle. Her father was once a famous acrobat, but he was injured during a performance (caused by Tookie’s mother vainly checking her reflection in a mirror and inadvertently blinding him) and is now an angry alcoholic. Tookie herself has extremely low self-esteem and refers to herself as a “Forgetta-Girl.” When she writes her name, she dots the “i” with “FG.” We see this often, since Tookie writes a lot of letters to her T-Mail Jail. Which is what she calls her diary, because it is her Tookie Mail Jail where she puts letters so they can’t get out anywhere else.

Anyway, every year, there is an event called The Day of Discovery (T-DOD), where all the young girls participate in a catwalk fashion show. The best girls are taken away by scouts to attend Modelland, the academy for models. The best students at Modelland become Intoxibellas, aka Dystopia’s Next Top Models.

In a weird way, Tyra Banks as an author appears to owe a lot to Roald Dahl. Both have a fondness for extreme, over-the-top scenarios and weird wordplay. The difference, of course, is that Dahl is good at it. The difference is that Dahl writes characters you care about, despite their whimsical surroundings. Dahl transcends absurdity. Banks gets tangled up in it. When you read about Charlie Bucket’s homelife–his father screws on toothpaste caps for a living, all four of his grandparents share the same bed, all they ever eat is cabbage soup–the details are laughable, a caricature of poverty. But still, we care about Charlie Bucket, and anyone who says otherwise is heartless and awful. Get off my blog if you don’t care about the Bucket family!

Anyway, Tyra Banks does not pull this off, and Tookie de la Creme is instead hilariously forlorn. At school she just lies down in the hallway every day in the hopes that someone will pay attention to her. But no one does, because she is a Forgetta-Girl.

But then, on T-DOD–a scout chooses Tookie for Modelland, and not her beautiful younger sister, Myrracle! (Myrracle, by the way, suffers from Kevin Jonas syndrome–Banks clearly wanted to make her comically stupid, but instead she comes off as having some kind of surreal mental handicap. Like, she says “making in” instead of “making out.” That makes no sense. That is not how a stupid person talks.) Tookie and her new misfit friends (one is plus-size! one is short! one has albinism! They’ll never be models, never!)

Modelland itself is kind of like America’s Next Top Model on steroids. There are all kinds of absurd challenges and classes. Everything there has a weird semi-word play name. The spa is called OoAa. Male models are called Bestosteros. Runways are called Run-a-Ways. The nurses’ office is called Fashion Emergency Department Store (FEDS). Nurses are called purses. (I am serious.) I think that Modelland was co-written by Tom Haverford.

The actual plot of the novel, beyond Tookie learning that she is beautiful on the inside and the outside, is insanely complicated and makes little sense but it involves Tookie’s mother, a disgraced top Intoxibella, Belladonna (the head of Modelland), and Persimmon (a Mannecant… aka servant of Modelland). There are a lot of weird flashbacks and it’s all very strange and forced.

The whole thing is forced. The characters, the wordplay, the world itself–none of it feels even remotely plausible, nor is it entertaining enough to allow me to overlook how awful it is.

ANTM

I rate Modelland two smizes out of a possible five. If you are tempted to read this book, I would instead recommend that you read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and then watch an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Oxygen.

October 3, 2011

Music Monday: S.O.S.

by renata

Well, last week I talked about Justin Bieber, so today I may as well address the other JB: the Jonas Brothers. Remember them? Come on. They were on the cover of Rolling Stone.

God! Girls! Guitars!

They haven’t released an album together since 2009, though Nick Jonas and Joe Jonas are both attempting solo careers. People frequently try to defend the Jonas Brothers against other acts (e.g. Justin Bieber) by pointing out that they write all their own songs! And play their own instruments! They do, I guess.

They also have awesomely literal music videos, like the one for S.O.S.:

Did you catch that? They’re on a ship. S.O.S. Texting also features more heavily in this video than any other video I’ve ever seen. Still: it’s a pretty catchy song, and much preferable to any of their ballads.

My favorite Jonas Brother is the eldest, Kevin. Kevin is the only JoBro who is not attempting a solo career. If you know what Kevin Jonas is currently up to, please let me know. I think he is probably just hanging out with his wife and playing a lot of video games and stalking his more ambitious younger siblings on Twitter.

In the Camp Rock movies, the Jonas Brothers stretch their acting talent to play a band. In the movies (as, I dare say, in real life?), Nick Jonas is the business-minded, self-righteous one. Joe Jonas is the asshole. Kevin Jonas is a total weirdo who is obsessed with birdhouses and is (I believe) supposed to be kind of charmingly naive but actually comes off as being legitimately mentally incapacitated in some way.

KevJo

What's up, Kevin?

Kevin’s character in Camp Rock is obsessed with arts & crafts and specifically birdhouses. My friend Anna & I strongly believe that Kevin is missing out on an opportunity to sell Kevin Jonas-branded birdhouses. He and his wife are apparently getting their own reality show, which I for one am extremely excited about. They can tour birdhouse factories together and really let the audience get behind the scenes of their new business.

birdhouse

Build a little birdhouse in your soul

But seriously I don’t know who on earth besides my friend Anna & I are going to watch KevJo’s reality show. Most kids are already way over the Jonas Brothers anyway. And those who do still like the JoBros all prefer Nick or Joe.

In conclusion, I rate Kevin Jonas five birdhouses (out of a possible five).