Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “classics”

Reading Round Up: February


For a short month February provided ample time to plow through a bevy of satisfying and diverse books. Two snow days from school helped in getting some serious cozy cocoa and recliner reading done. So many great titles and discoveries to share with you!

 

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
4 stars

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A reimagining, rather than a retelling of the Chinese folktale of Mulan, Dickerson’s version is set in 15th century Lithuania. In this version, Mulan is the illegitimate daughter of Mikolai, a warrior father who has died. Mulan serves as a warrior to save her mother from becoming homeless, and to escape from an unwelcome arranged marriage.
The first half of the plot relates Mulan’s adventures as a soldier. With realistic detail, Mulan struggles to meet the demands of fighting amongst men, while trying to hide her identity. During battle she meets and becomes friends with Wolfgang, a duke’s son. Inevitably their friendship develops into something deeper once Wolfgang discovers why he is attracted to and is protective of the young soldier known as Mikolai.
Unfortunately, the second half of the story becomes enmeshed in being more of a romance novel than the adventuresome first part. Attention to historical detail and the smooth rendering of the multiple points of view, lean this more towards a four star than a three star review.
This title refers to characters from the previous book in the Hagerheim series, yet it can be read as a standalone.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The Long Game (The Fixer #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
4 stars

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Sequels are tough. For the most part The Long Game continues the energy from The Fixer, and weaves in enough referrals to keep new readers abreast of previous action. The Long Game focuses on action instead of characters and character dynamics is what made The Fixer such a riveting story. There is not a mention of Gramps in The Long Game and considering how important he is to Tess and Ivy, it seems an injustice to drop him from the plot. Tess is one amazing young woman, yet she is a high school teen not Jason Bourne. Still, the writing is superb, the plot twists darn right surprising. Just wee bit too intense with a few plot holes holding it back.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
4 stars

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I am not sure how this book escaped my attention as a kid. Best to make up for lost time. It is a classic and has all kinds of charm—YET—I’m not sold out on Amos. I can’t get past how only Ben could hear Amos talk, and all those other plot holes, like how does a mouse buy a hat?  The illustrations are the best part of the story, and they were actually better than the story. Just saying.

NOTE: I had to scurry and read this for our February Debatable–which was a doozy of a debate. What? You missed it? Best check it out [my choice of best mouse won with Reepicheep of Narnia series fame]

At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
4 stars

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This one of those literary novels that are Joycian in how there is no plot, rather it’s one long character study with a tableau of characters. Nothing really happens, yet there is an urgency that something might. And it takes ever so long to realize it doesn’t. Brilliantly written, of course.

NOTE: since the library doesn’t own The Bookshop, which I hope to read before watching the movie, I grabbed this instead. If this were made into a movie I would envision Bette Davies as Freddie.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
4 stars

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Avoidance of Holocaust books is my usual modus operandi, yet a based-on-a-true story about a library in Auschwitz? I pulled it down from the shelf with anticipation.
The beginning is absolutely riveting as the young Dita attempts to hide a couple of books during a spot inspection. Will she be caught?  From that auspicious start the plot veers into a medley of different characters with historical facts woven in for good measure. The omniscient present tense creates a distance, making it difficult to fully embrace the story. Dita is amazing, but she is not truly the focus.  The atrocities began to burden the story until it began to be a reading of endurance instead of interest. Of course a book set in a concentration camp is going to have tragedy; however, I was drawn in by the title—a librarian at Auschwitz? That sounded like a story based in hope.
The research and details are well-done and this, perhaps, is what creates a barrier from establishing a solid connection with the characters—a bit of a textbook mingled with a dynamic storyline is the result. It almost works and maybe it worked better in the author’s original language. Translations sometimes do lose some of the story’s essence.

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
5 star

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YA usually comes in the flavors of dystopian, supernatural, romance, strong female protagonist, sci fi, high school drama, adventure; however, the newest menu choice is political thriller. The Fixer is surprisingly addicting and amazing in how it takes the high school drama trope, mixes in some adventure, with a strong female protagonist, and tops it off with political intrigue. Unexpectedly refreshing.
Tess, who hails from Montana, suddenly finds herself planted in Washington DC in a life far different than her previous. Although shoveling muck out of horse stalls and brooking a strong intolerance for bullies are skills that serve her well in DC.
The writing is superb, as is the pacing, and the plot twists are to be applauded. This is a reluctant 5 star due to the difficulty of totally accepting the maturity and capabilities of this group of teens. Then again, living in DC is not for sissies.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
5 star

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Santos had me at Cary Grant. All the mentions of classic black and white films was a bonus to the imaginative plot, dynamic characters, and lyrical prose. To be perfectly honest though, this is more of a 4.85 rating as the ending half began to unravel a bit with tying off of loose ends. The author’s background in poetry serves her well, since the descriptive imagery practically sings, yet doesn’t overshadow the plot. A couple of unexpected plot twists, a winsome little girl, and a mystery mom, along with unconventional storytelling techniques makes this a memorable read. And it’s her first one–looking forward to more.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
5 star

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Harbor Me is in the vein of Wonder in how it brings people together with its message of acceptance. Although it is a middle read, its prose is rich and well-crafted and is, quite frankly, thoroughly amazing. A niggling concern is how in the world could a school legally get away with having an unsupervised “chat” room for students? Definite artistic license superseding legal responsibilities. Setting that aside, the conceit of ARRTful sharing works in how it opens up the world of a diverse group of children on the verge of becoming teens in a world becoming more and more complicated.

The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
5 star

634747A solid classic. Strong, memorable characters, engaging storyline, and enriching details come together to purport the tale of a young, penniless doctor who rises out of the obscurity of backwoods coal mining towns to becoming a rich, well-respected London physician. His trading out of idealism for a comfortable life comes with great costs, yet the story just falls short of moralism. Due to the style found in the time period of publication,some of the story techniques are a bit antiquated, as in the tried and true, “tell rather than show” instead of having the story evolve from the characters themselves. There is also some melodramatic moments. Nevertheless, it is still well-written and a meritable read.  It’s not surprising that the book was made into a film and a BBC series.

Don’t Close Your Eyes: A Silly Bedtime Story by Bob Hostetler illustrations by Mark Chambers
5 star

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Playfully engaging, the rhyming text teams up to the whimsical illustrations to coerce its audience to NOT fall asleep. That’s right. Instead of the usual drone of encouraging young listeners to gently enter slumber, this book keeps cheerfully reminding its readers to stay awake. The reverse psychology is fun and children will no doubt enjoy the gentle nudge to keep their eyes open wide open instead of closing them for the night.
One of those books that invite multiple reads.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The last entry is not so much a dissapointment, but it just didn’t fulfill the hope of being better:

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
3 stars
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Historical novels set around WWII easily catch the interest, especially when it’s a unique view of the war effort through work done at the Springfield Armory. The jacket blurb indicates family drama: two sisters who cannot reconcile petty jealousies and misunderstandings that fill their relationship from childhood to being adults.
What could have been a deep study of family relationship interaction became a bouncing point of view telling with several women each telling their perspective. The intermittent timeline weaving and flashbacks made it difficult to truly connect with the characters. Multiple viewpoint stories run towards the problem of thinly spreading the plot too wide. Well-placed setting, though, as it is obvious the author did her research

Techno Faux Pax


A variation of an old chestnut:

Two girls walk into a classroom wearing the same yellow sweatshirt. They stop and stare at each other. They size each other up. The teacher tries to cut the tension with the quip: “Looks like you got the email.”

You know–that joke.

The problem is that teens don’t email each other. At least not anymore. The class bursts out in derisive laughter. “Yeah, right. Because that’s what we do. We email each other.” Loud smirking ensues.

Trying to save a bit of my self-esteem I respond brightly: “Maybe that’s why I don’t hear that often from my own kids –I email them.” The moment is somewhat saved and we go back to English.

I do text. I don’t Tweet. I do FaceTime. I prefer visits. I write letters. Hmm–nothing comes close to a letter. A humorous card maybe.

Yet, if I were to say the right techno term I still would be on the outside looking in. Why? My expiration date is beginning to show. I’m at retirement age and students know it. I don’t feel like retiring yet, but because I could, that makes me old. Out with the old, in with the new.

If I happen to drop in a casual word or phrase students seem surprised. Do I know what that means? If I mention a movie, song, a whatever that is in their world I think it concerns them. It’s as if I have bumped their youth bubble. Granted, I don’t know most of their music, trends, or media choices. On the other hand, they don’t know that Edgar Allan Poe influenced Stephen King, who I remember reading when he first came out and none of his books were movies yet. Or how about everyone from Monty Python to Jimmy Fallon quotes some line from Hamlet and now my students know why. Or the reason there are strong female protagonists like Katniss is because we had Jane Eyre first. And they don’t know about Byronic Heroes–yet, even though they do know about Loki, Ironman, and Bat Man.

I may get my techno terminology tangled, but they don’t know all about the who, how, and why of Shakespeare’s influence of just about everything. I have job security for a bit longer.

So is blogging for old people? Oh who cares–I need more than 280 characters for my say.

Those Thrifty, Nifty Dover Classics


For those of us who splurge and buy books to hoard on our shelves so we always have a lovely bit of paged delight at our fingertips, probably don’t consider the paperback, easy-on-the-pocketbook editions of Dover as ones we trot out and buy. Yet, I imagine most of us Book Boosters, really and truly appreciate that Dover does provide under $6.00 editions of classics.  As a teacher on a tight budget, I’m thrilled I can get a class set of Hamlet for under $40.00.

What is Dover all about? Well, the good folks at School Library Journal took time to find out by interviewing their editor-in-chief,  M.C. Waldrep. One of the takeaways from the interview is that among the top four classics that sell are Frankenstein, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and The Adventures of Huck Finn.  Shakespeare is right up there, of course.

For more Dover insights check out the interview.

BtW: Dover is more than providing classics for the economic minded. They have a ready collection of coloring books for that new trend (or old trend renewed). They have initiated the first National Coloring Book Day which you can anticipate by sharpening up your Crayolas when August 2 arrives. More on the coloring craze is found here.

What Dover classics are roaming your shelves, backpack, or are fondly remembered from your school days?

Better yet, which Dover classic would you slip in as a stocking stuffer?

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Mockingbird Winner!


I have yet another reading quiz result. This time I explored what kind of hero I might be–I am quite pleased with the findings. Honestly, I wasn’t peeking at the choices. Yet, here it is and *tadah* I’m feeling vindicated. Ready…

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Apparently because I like to read in my spare time, fight for what I think is right, and prefer my own company I’m an Atticus kind of hero(ine). All this time I thought I was a scrappy bookworm. This time I included the link. Do tell what your results are.

What kind of hero are you? Take the quiz!

Children’s Books for Forever


I don’t think I will ever outgrow my liking of children’s books. At one point I began collecting them as I came across them in yard sales, thrift stores, and the cast offs from the public library. I probably would have done better to start my collection after I had done my college moving days. Carting crates of books during a year of several moves created in me to appreciate children’s books in a different fashion. I no longer have my collection, and I don’t terribly regret the decision to dissemble it. I still am a confirmed reader, promoter, and writer of children’s stories. They remain my fave.  Here’s a hint–if you are feeling somewhat blue about the edges, go grab a kid’s book and read it. Better yet, grab a kid and a book and read the book to the kid. No more blues.

With all that being said it gives me great smiles to present the New York Public Libraries first ever 100 Top Children’s Books of the Last 100 Years. First posted on School Library Journal’s site September 30, 2013 (I am a bit behind in my inbox readings).

 

100YearsChildBks strip1 NYPL Unveils 100 Top Children’s Books of the Last 100 YearsIn alphabetical order by title, this list is as follows:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Judith Viorst. Illus. by Ray Cruz. (1972)
All-of-a-Kind Family. Sydney Taylor, illustrated by Helen John. (1951)
Amelia Bedelia. Peggy Parish, illustrated by Fritz Siebel. (1963)
The Arrival. Shaun Tan. (2007) Bark, George. Jules Feiffer. (1999)
Because of Winn-Dixie. Kate DiCamillo. (2000)
Ben’s Trumpet. Rachel Isadora. (1979)
Big Red Lollipop. Rukhsana Khan. Illus. by Sophie Blackall. (2010)
The Birchbark House. Louise Erdrich. (1999)
The Book of Three. Lloyd Alexander. (1964)
The Borrowers. Mary Norton. Illus. by Beth Krush and Joe Krush. (1953)
El Gallo De Bodas: A Traditional Cuban Folktale. Lucía M. González. Illus. by Lulu Delacre. (1994)
Bread and Jam for Frances.
Russell Hoban. illustrated by Lillian Hoban. (1964)
Bridge to Terabithia. Katherine Paterson. (1977)
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Bill Martin, Jr. Illus. by Eric Carle. (1967)
Caps for Sale. Esphyr Slobodkina. (1938)
The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Seuss. (1957)
Chains. Laurie Halse Anderson. (2008)
A Chair For My Mother. Vera B. Williams. (1982)
Charlotte’s Web. E.B. White. Illus. by Garth Williams. (1952)
Chato’s Kitchen. Gary Soto. Illus. by Susan Guevara. (1995)
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. Illus. by Lois Ehlert. (1989)
Corduroy. Don Freeman. (1976) Curious George. H.A. Rey. (1941)
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Ingri D’Aulaire and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire. (1962)
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Mo Willems. (2003)
Esperanza Rising. Pam Muñoz Ryan. (2000)
Freight Train. Donald Crews. (1978)
Frog and Toad Are Friends. Arnold Lobel. (1970)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. E.L. Konigsburg. (1967)
George and Martha. James Marshall. (1972)
The Giver. Lois Lowry. (1993)
Go, Dog. Go! P.D. Eastman. (1961)
Goodnight Moon. Margaret Wise Brown. Illus. by Clement Hurd. (1947)
Grandfather’s Journey. Allen Say. (1993)
The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman. Illus. by Dave McKean. (2008)
Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss. (1960)
Harold and the Purple Crayon. Crockett Johnson. (1955)
Harriet the Spy. Louise Fitzhugh. (1964)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. J.K. Rowling. (1998)
Hatchet. Gary Paulsen. (1989)
The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. (1937)
Holes. Louis Sachar. (1998)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Brian Selznick. (2007)
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Simms Taback. (1999)
Jumanji.
 Chris Van Allsburg. (1981)
Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. Yuyi Morales. (2003)
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Kevin Henkes. (1996)
The Lion and the Mouse.
Jerry Pinkney. (2009)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis. (1950)
The Little House. Virginia Lee Burton. (1942)
The Little Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (1943)
Locomotion. Jacqueline Woodson. (2003)
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China. Ed Young. (1989) 100YearsChildBks strip2 NYPL Unveils 100 Top Children’s Books of the Last 100 YearsMadeline. Ludwig Bemelmans. (1939)
Make Way for Ducklings. Robert McCloskey. (1941)
Matilda. Roald Dahl. Illus. by Quentin Blake. (1988)
Meet Danitra Brown. Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. (1994)
Millions of Cats. Wanda Gág. (1928)
Miss Nelson is Missing!
Harry Allard. Illus. by James Marshall. (1977)
Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
Richard and Florence Atwater. Illus. by Robert Lawson. (1938)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
Robert C. O’Brien. (1971)
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale.
John Steptoe. (1987)
My Father’s Dragon.
 Ruth Stiles Gannett. Illus. by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (1948)
My Name is Yoon.
 Helen Recorvits. Illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. (2003)
Olivia.
Ian Falconer. (2000)
One Crazy Summer
. Rita Williams-Garcia. (2010)
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales.
Virginia Hamilton. Illus. by Leo/Diane Dillon. (1985)
The Phantom Tollbooth. Norton Juster. Illus. by Jules Feiffer. (1961)
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue. Maurice Sendak. (1962)
Pink and Say. Patricia Polacco.  (1994)
Pippi Longstocking. Astrid Lindgren. (1950)
Ramona the Pest. Beverly Cleary. (1968)
Rickshaw Girl. Mitali Perkins. Illus. by Jamie Hogan. (2007)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Mildred D. Taylor. (1976)
Rumpelstiltskin. Paul O. Zelinsky. (1986)
A Sick Day for Amos MCGee. Philip Stead. Illus. by Erin E. Stead. (2010)
The Snowy Day. Ezra Jack Keats. (1962)
Starry River of the Sky. Grace Lin. (2012)
The Stories Julian Tells. Ann Cameron. Illus. by Ann Strugnell. (1981)
The Story of Ferdinand. Munro Leaf. Illus. by Robert Lawson. (1936)
Strega Nona. Tomie dePaola. (1975)
Swimmy. Leo Lionni. (1963)
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
William Steig. (1969)
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Judy Blume. (1972)
The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. Julius Lester. Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. (1987)
Tar Beach. Faith Ringgold. (1991)
Ten, Nine, Eight. Molly Bang. (1983)
Tomie dePaola’s Mother Goose. Tomie dePaola. (1985)
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Jon Scieszka. Illus. by Lane Smith. (1989)
Tuesday. David Wiesner. (1991)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle. (1969)
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. Christopher Paul Curtis. (1995)
The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. (1978)
When You Reach Me. Rebecca Stead. (2009)
Where Is the Green Sheep? Mem Fox. Illus. by Judy Horacek. (2004)
Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak. (1963)
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears. Verna Aardema. Illus. by Leo/Diane Dillon. (1975)
Winnie-the-Pooh. A.A. Milne. Illus. by Ernest H. Shepard. (1926)
A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle. (1962)

So many wonderful friends. I love a great list filled with great books. I hope you found some good old friends as well.

The Guilt-Free Read


One of the first items of my “I’m-finally-on-summer-vacation” list is to trot down to the local library and leisurely select a few novels to enjoy without guilt. During the year I am either guilty of sneaking my reading in between grading essays or I feel guilt because I am not reading.  With no papers in sight for the next couple of months I shall enjoy reading at all hours of the day guilt free.

I tend to mix up my reading,  and although I don’t like to make lists, here are a few goals I plan on to accomplish while lounging in the hammock this summer:

1. Room with a View (a reread, the first time I read it too fast determining if I would teach it for AP–the verdict? A resounding “Yes!” The subtle humor and digs at Brits and their habits are delightful–the film caught the spirit well, also.)

2. A really good mystery series–I haven’t found one since I finished my Inspector Evans series by Rhys Bowens.  I’m picky though–no bedding, no swearing, no gratuitous violence–limiting, isn’t it?  Take it up as a challenge 🙂

3. Classics yet to read:  The Sound and the Fury; Middlemarch; Faust (really, I never have); some Dickens, more Shakespeare, and perhaps a Hemingway, and of course a revisit with Austen.

4. Look up current YA–I discovered Hunger Games before the masses did, and hope to find a new trend-setter.

5. Kid Lit: what’s going on in picture books these days, and it never hurts to look up old friends for an afternoon of revisiting.

I’m open to suggestions. Got a good read to recommend? My schedule is wide open until end of August.

image from guardian.co.uk

Billy Collins captures the guilt-free read so very well in his poem “Reading in a Hammock”. An excerpt:

Around the edges of the book
is the larger sky,
dotted with clouds,
and some overhanging branches
that appear to be slowly swaying
back and forth,
as if I were the one lying motionless…

Those Tough Lit Chicks


I can’t resist those tough chicks of our favorite classic lit reads.

What are the qualifications for a tough chick of lit? Well, how about capable, quick of wit, common sense, a set of skills, determination, fudging the lines of feminine acceptability for the time period, and not necessarily physically a beauty contestant in looks but going for lots of personality?

Here is a grocery list of chicks of lit likables: (all images from GoodReads)

Pippi Longstocking

Scout Finch

To Kill a Mockingbird

Jo March

Little Women

Laura Ingalls

Little House on the Prairie (Little House, #2)

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Elizabeth Bennett

Pride and Prejudice

Janie Crawford

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Kate

Much Ado About NothingThe Taming of the Shrew

Lucy Honeychurch

A Room with a View / Howards End

Thursday Next

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1)

Katniss Everdeen

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Mick Kelly

Francie Nolan

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

That’s just a start. I’m working on round two. Any nominations? Who is on your list for literature’s tough chicks?

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