Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Homage to LPs

I kind of doubt that kids today will even know what an LP is. To be honest, cassette tapes and CD's were already the format of choice throughout most of my childhood, but I do remember those large black plastic discs that belonged to my parents and which were under no circumstances allowed to be played with. I also remember our local library had records. They weren't available for check-out, but you could listen to them if you signed up to use the record player, which included an enormous pair of heavy headphones. My favorites to listen to "Free to Be You and Me," by Marlo Thomas, an abridged version "The Scarecrow of Oz," by Frank Baum and, of course, "Frog and Toad Are Friends," read by Arnold Lobel.

Imagine my surprise then, when I started to notice several CD's using the image of an LP on their disc art.

Walt Disney's Fantasia
Leopold Stowkowski & the Philadelphia Orchestra
Walt Disney Records
2001 (1942)

Silly Car Songs
Treehouse Kids
Treehouse Entertainment

Mickey's Dance Party
Walt Disney Records

Joel Caithamer
Crooked Knees Records

Lilo & Stitch 2: Island Favorites
Walt Disney Records

Woody's Roundup: A Rootin' Tootin' Collection of Woody's Favorite Songs
Toy Story
Walt Disney Records

Buck Howdy
Prairie Dog Entertainment

Plenty of Disney titles in there, but a couple of others too. I wonder if parents or teachers are tickled when they run across one of these.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Yesterday I went to a meeting of Los Angeles P.A.L.S., Puppets and Library Storytimes. If you happen to be in the area and you have the chance to go to one of their monthly meetings then you definitely should. It was like balm to the soul. I feel so inspired and refreshed. The meeting was a fairly casual gathering of librarians and other puppet enthusiasts to share ideas. We met at the Pacific Park branch of the Glendale library, which is a beautiful complex, co-owned by the library and the local school.

Judy Woodworth from happened to be there, as well as Stephanie Stokes from

Judy's feltboard finger puppets are adorable. She gave an amazing presentation at my work a few months ago. She has so much energy, enthusiasm and knowledge, it was great to be able to sit and chat with her in a more intimate setting. She shared a lot of educational rhymes, talked about ways to reuse the same puppets with different performances, and displayed some different techniques for incorporating puppets into storytimes.

Judy proposes using both the front and back of one's hand when using finger puppets, either to take advantage of a two-sided puppet, or to facilitate quick "exits" or "appearances" of puppet characters. It's the kind of thing which takes practice and some forethought, but the effects can be really stunning. I'm enthralled with her idea to try using a finger puppet on one forefinger as you read a book. I simply must try it!

We all brought puppets and ideas to share, and were riffing on how we might use them differently. I was consistently impressed with how quick and inventive Stephanie Stokes was. Within moments, she'd come up with half a dozen ideas. She shared a simple and affordable Halloween craft, by taking a clear plastic glove and drawing faces on the fingertips in marker, creating a "5 Little Ghosts" puppet.

Stephanie demonstrates her "ghosts."

Sigrid Hudson, the organizer of the event, brought a craft for everyone to work on. We attached orange pom-poms to a black glove to create a jack o'lantern hand. There are a couple of great rhymes one could use with this.

Five Little Pumpkins
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, "Oh, my it's getting late!"
The second one said, "We don't care!"
The third one said, "There are leaves all in the air!"
The fourth one said, "I'm ready for some fun!"
The fifth one said, "Let's run and run and run!"
Then Whoooooosh... went the wind,
And out went the light!
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

Five Little Jack O'Lanterns
Five little jack-o’lanterns glowing by the door
Father took one and that left four.
Four little jack-o’lanterns, a sight to see
Mother took one and that left three.
Three little jack-o’lanterns lit through and through
Brother took one and that left two.
Two little jack-o’lanterns greeting everyone,
Sister took one and that left one.
One little jack-o’lantern, with a great big grin
I picked him up and took him in.

One could even substitute "pumpkins" for "bunnies" from the Tired Bunnies rhyme.

Tired Pumpkins
"Come my pumpkins, it's time for bed."
That's what Mother Pumpkin said.
"But first I'll count you just to see,
If you have all come back to me.
One, Two, Three, oh dear,
Four, Five, yes, you're all here!
You're the sweetest things alive.
My pumpkins 1,2,3,4,5."

Interested in coming to a meeting of Los Angeles P.A.L.S.? It's easy. Just drop Sigrid a line at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Simon and Schuster is offering Rick Yancey's new book, The Monstrumologist for free online from September 22 - 30.

I've read the first chapter and (so far) it seems like an engrossing read. It looks like an ARC which has been scanned in... a few of the pages have mismatched font or minor spelling errors. Happily, the woodcut-styled medical illustrations are included. From what little I've read, I'd say The Monstrumologist dials down the suspense but ups the ante with more horror than Frankenstein.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Whets your appetite

Hunger Games

Set sometime in the (distant?) future, the U.S. has been replaced by a new nation-state called Panem. Once a year, the totalitarian government demands a "tribute" of two youths from each of the twelve districts. They are sent to compete in the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial battle for resources designed to both entertain and intimidate the citizens.

Katniss lives a hard-scrabble existence in the coal-mining district. She's an expert hunter who illegally poaches with her male friend Gale in the woods just outside their village. After the emotionally trying loss of her father and her mother's complete withdrawal, she is nearly solely responsible for the care of her younger sister Prim. When Prim is selected as the sacrifice, Katniss instantly volunteers to take her place. She and Peeta, the village baker's son, are sent to the Capitol. Katniss feels awful, as she considers Peeta a friend, but quickly forces herself to be pragmatic, hoping that someone else will kill Peeta first so that she doesn't have to.

After receiving makeovers, and enjoying opulence in the Capitol for the first time in their lives, Peeta makes the startling revelation (on-air, no less) that he's always harbored feelings for Katniss. All too soon, they are forced into battle. While most of the contestants pick each other off quickly in a battle for supplies, Peeta and Katniss form an uneasy alliance. Katniss quickly assumes Peeta's declaration of love for her is a shrewd gambit on his part, in a desperate gamble to assure a winning spot for both of them. She quickly decides to "play along" for the cameras never dreaming that his feelings are genuine. If she does survive, how long will she have to keep up the ruse? And how will she explain this to her not-quite boyfriend Gale back home?

I had several moments reading this where I had trouble suspending my disbelief long enough to really believe in this world. Or perhaps I am too much of an optimist... Somehow I can't picture people actually enjoying watching kids battle each other to the death on a reality tv show. But, then again, I can't believe that people enjoy going to see Body Worlds either. Ultimately, I absolutely really enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down. It's a great blend of action, suspense and dystopia with just a touch of romance.

One of the small consolations to having such a backlog of books to read is that I don't have to wait for the sequel. Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, was released at the beginning of this month. My next challenge: avoiding spoilers until I can get it into my hands!

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Upcoming Steampunk

I am so looking forward to Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. It's due out October 6. Here's a trailer explaining what the story is about.

Harry Potter Theme Park

I am intrigued and amused to hear news that Warner Bros. intends on opening a new theme park: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Sounds interesting!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dystopian underground

In what we assume is the far future, Lina and her friend Doon live in what they believe to be the last bastion of humanity. A disintegrating city surrounded by darkness is reliant on the last of their dwindling stores. The Builders left Instructions for their descendants, which have been lost. Most of the townsfolk are content to continue scraping along with reduced rations, hoping that the Mayor will somehow find a solution. In a scene reminiscent of The Giver, Lina is pleased to receive her assignment for her new job: that of Messenger. Doon, on the other hand is assigned to the pipeworks. Together, they end up piecing together the secrets hidden in their city.

I'd been meaning to get around to reading this book for ages... and somehow it seems like in a blink of an eye, it's turned into a whole series, and a (not terribly successful) movie. I listened to this on audio. Wendy Dillon created all of the unique and distinct characters, for a fully realized sound recording with a bit of music and foley sound effects here and there. Lina's voice seemed so very young, and child-like. A bit carefree. Doon is the "responsible" one seeing the danger in the city as they are running low on supplies, including lightbulbs. I was mystified by their situation at first. The adults in the town seem strangely incurious, bureaucratic and ineffective. A lot of them seemed like mealy-mouthed whiners to me, because they see the supplies running out, but aren't willing to fight for any solutions.

The city is surrounded by darkness, and beyond the trashdumps are the Unexplored Regions. I saw a few plotholes here. Everyone has a ravening, unceasing fear of the dark. Everyone? Really? With no exceptions? People have difficulty navigating their own houses that they've lived in all their lives without the help of the lights? Over several generations in a town of a fair sized population, not one person has ever happened to be blind and thus not afraid of the dark? Mysterious. The pace of this was excruciatingly slow. Some readers could argue that people who have no knowlege of anything else in the outside world WOULD take a long time to puzzle out things which might be obvious to us. I wondered too, if I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it (so that I could read it quickly) rather than listening to it, where I was forced to follow along at the careful, slow pace as set out. This is a solidly imagined world -- Lina's knowledge of flora and fauna for example, is limited to a few insects and a couple of varieties of garden vegetables. She has trouble understanding what a boat is, or how to use a candle.

The story has a satisfying ending, but is still quite open for more in the series. The title, of course, seems a bit allegorical (The City of Ember is nearly out of light and the next book, The People of Sparks is presumeably about the city folk's fresh start in a new community) I don't know if I'll be tackling the rest of this series anytime soon... between this and Philip Reeve's excellent though thoroughly terrifying Hungry City Chronicles, I've had quite my fill of post-apocolyptic dystopian future epics. I see this series aimed at teens, which surprises me a bit. The characters are both twelve, but there's no romance of any sort in the book, and their mindset seems so much younger. I'd pitch this to fourth and fifth graders, no problem.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dragon*Con 2009

Well, I didn't make it to nearly as many bookish events at D*Con as I'd planned. Actually, the convention is so huge, with hundreds of guest speakers, dozens of programming tracks and tens of thousands of attendees, it's pretty much a given that you'll only see a fraction of everything that's going on.

Probably, the most stunning thing is seeing so many of the costumed fans.

There were, as usual, plenty of stormtroopers to be found.

Steampunkers were in abundance this year. Think earth-tones, recycled and reused items in a future where Victorian aesthetic still holds sway. It's the future if the Industrial Revolution had never taken place, and ray guns were delicately hand-crafted with plenty of clockwork gears.
I even happened to run across, if you can believe it... a steampunk Boba Fett.

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Vacation

I am on vacation, breathing in the mercifully less smoky air of Atlanta, GA. There's lots on my agenda for the long weekend. I'm geeking out at Dragon*Con (for those unfamiliar, they describe themselves as "the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the US") Plenty of fantasy and science-fiction authors here... Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Timothy Zahn, Charlaine Harris (of True Blood fame), Janny Wurts and Peter S. Beagle to name a few.

As if that weren't enough, this is also the same weekend as the Decatur Book Festival. About a 30 minute train ride east of Atlanta, they claim to be the country's largest independent book festival. I don't know about that! They are expecting a respectable 60,000 attendees, but that's still nothing compared to the L.A. Festival of Books 130,000. Their author line-up looks like a dream for adult librarians: Sara Gruen, Diana Gabaldon, Kathryn Stockett and Lee Child will all be there. But, just like the L.A. Festival, there is a Target-sponsored Children's Stage featuring Jon Scieszka, Kate DiCamillo, David Lubar, Ally Carter and Lauren Myracle among others. If I get a chance, I may try to spend half a day there.

Good times!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Acerbic, yet sweet

Cyd Charisse has been expelled from her New England boarding school and is back in San Francisco with her family-- mom Nancy, step-dad Sid, and half-siblings Josh and Ashley. She very much feels like the unwanted step-child in her family. Her thoughts keep circling back to an unintended pregnancy with her ex-boyfriend Justin and the abortion she had. It doesn't completely rule her life... but it does haunt her. She has an almost-too-wise sound, kind of like Diablo Cody - the arch 30-something hipster attempting to speak in a teen's voice. The book came out in 2002 and already sounds just a wee bit dated... the all-pervasiveness of cell phones and internet was beginning but not at the zenith that it is today. I found the parents being named Sid and Nancy a bit distracting at first, but by the end of the story, I barely noticed.

Forced to do community service, Cyd befriends "Sugarpie" an elderly woman at a senior center. Sugarpie was a psychic and tarot-card reader who faced some heartbreak of her own in her day and provides the kind of womanly advice and support that Cyd finds lacking in her career-driven, money-obsessed parents. Cyd's new surfer boyfriend Shrimp dumps her just before she sets off for a month in New York to reconnect with her father, something which upsets her very much, especially after finding a warm relationship with him following her dysfunctional relationship with Justin. Cyd carries around a ragdoll with her everywhere -- Gingerbread, named after a dessert her father brought her on their one meeting at an airport when she was five. Cyd comes to realize that her biological father "real-dad-Frank" is a jerk and a disappointment. Embarrassed by his affair, he first tries to pass her off as his niece and later as his goddaughter. She connects with her older half-brother Danny, who as a gay man, is united in his outsider status in the family. Older sister Rhonda (who Cyd Charisse later finds out goes by the name Lizbet) is a disappointment as well -- a snooty preppy Catholic, who's horrified to learn that she has an illegitimate sister. Despite all she's been through, Cyd remains somewhat boy-crazed, crushing on her new boyfriend's brother, Wallace as well as her father's New York Italian driver Louis.

I enjoyed Cyd's quirky sense of humor. She refers to her room (when grounded) as "Alcatraz" She finds an outlet for her energy working as a barista and is always ready with a clever come-back.

The tearful confession that Cyd finally makes with her mother, Nancy at the end of the book didn't feel forced at all. It felt as though she was getting her life back on track, and connecting the pieces, especially as Nancy confesses to her that she'd considered adoption -- choosing the name Cyd so that it would be so unique, and memorable that she could find her daughter if they were separated. Sid-dad comes across in the end as a real hero as well. He may not be Cyd's biological father, but he's the guy who is always supportive and there for her.

This is the first in a trilogy of books about Cyd. It's followed by Shrimp and Cupcake.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Newbery Guesses 2009

I don't know if I've really had too much jump out at me so far, and it is getting rather late in the day, isn't it? The first Newbery betting pool I ever joined, I predicted that Dear Mister Henshaw by Beverly Cleary would win and it did!!! And I've never picked a winner since.

If I had to pick some likely candidates for this year though, there's a few I might look at.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
A girl growing up in 1899 with a large family in Texas and is fascinated with science.
The language makes me think of Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Budding 11-year old cook Eleanor, aka "Groovy" must cope when her father is arrested for stealing the money in her trustfund.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
Kyra struggles to escape her family's rural polygamist cult before she is forced to marry her own uncle.

We Can't All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings
A wild snake is captured by a bully of a human boy, "pretending" to be domesticated while planning escape, she begins to find her will weakening.
A short book, but what an unusual protagonist!

Well, drat. Now that I've pointed out some books I liked, I feel certain that I may have jinxed them.


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