Encyclopedia Mythologica – Gods and Heroes

February 24, 2010 at 9:22 pm (Book Review) (, , , )

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I opened up Encyclopedia Mythologica’s Gods and Heroes popup book by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda.  A giant popup Anubis was a delightful surprise on the first page.

The images in this work are bright, colorful, highly detailed and will easily engage the attention of readers young and old.  When I described this book to my friends, many of my adult friends expressed an interest in seeing it.  These images are also highly detailed and multilayered, and through several re-readings, I have seen different things within the illustrations and inside the popups.

Scattered around the many large and small pop up images are bits of information about culture, history and religion from the cultures that the main images come from.  Much of the information is accurate, though sparse.  These are more tidbits to awaken a young person’s curiosity about these ancient cultures than to be a main educational source.  If homeschooling young children, I think this would make an excellent foreshadowing activity before embarking on a unit about mythology.

One thing that truly brings a smile to my face is the wealth of tiny images in the smaller popups off to the side.  Some of these are very multilayered, and just today, when scanning the book for a third time as I am writing this review, I discovered another image that I had not yet seen before.  This book has the potential to reveal new secrets every time you look at it.

My favorite page by far, though I imagine given my user name, will hardly come as a surprise to my readers, is the page on the Norse Gods.  The brilliant center piece is the god Thor, with hammer Mjöllnir raised overhead.  The side panels reveal a colorful Asgard, Loki dressed in drag, and a Valkyrie racing into battle.

The only things that I can find room to be critical on this particular book is that the balance of localities is about what you find in school text books.  A bit on Egypt, with a random panel on the Fertile Crescent thrown in, twice the amount of Greece/Rome as any other culture, Asian and New World mythologies all mashed together as if they are the same thing.  What would be more interesting to me is to see a separate book for each culture, going into more detail.  I would also be interested in seeing a works cited in the back, suggesting sources for children who would like to learn more.  However, this is not to take away from my opinion that this book is a stunning display of paper art that will captivate young imaginations and delight people of all ages.

At this point I will extend a word of caution.  Though the book is marked ages 5 and up, this is definitely a book to be read under adult supervision.  The pop up images are exceptionally complex and detailed, and fold back amazingly easily, but they *must* be opened and closed SLOWLY, or else risk damaging the art.  There are a wealth of hidden surprises in the smaller side panel popups, but these must be opened very carefully as they can get caught on the central popup.

Overall, this is a high quality book written with care to engage students in learning more about the past.  It is whimsical, funny, and brief enough to not exhaust the attention span of younger children, and I think it is bound to become a reading time favorite.

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The Wolf Quest Saga

January 4, 2009 at 2:31 am (Book Review, Uncategorized)

I am not sure what to say about this book.  It was offered up for review, and sounded interesting, as I sometimes enjoy werewolf stories.  I was even more excited to see that the author lived in the Houston area, which is where I am located.

The book has a wonderful cover and a very interesting plot summary describing a race of werewolf like beings called the Wolfernians.  The story is set in a modern setting with a young male protagonist coming of age.  It is targeted at a teen audience, and appears to be a promising read.

Then I opened the cover and read the author’s introduction.  In very poorly edited text the author describes his love of werewolves and a desire for books that feature werewolves as “good guys”.  I am somewhat turned off by the poor editing, but I figured it for a pre-published work, so read on.  I turned it over and discover that no, it is the final released version of it and I was dumbfounded.

This is the first book to review that I just cannot recommend for anyone to read.  The plotline sounds really interesting and engaging, but the way it is written it is impossible to finish.  There are so many typos and grammatical errors that I kept wanting to take a red pen to the page, and the writing style reminds me of teenage anime fanfiction.

I must credit the author with some very interesting plot ideas, and I feel that this book needs several more stages of development and editing to be ready for publication.  Should this happen, I will be delighted to read it again, I think the topic would be very appealing to teens.

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The Shiniest Jewel by Marian Henley

December 7, 2008 at 7:37 am (Book Review) (, , , , , )

This small book is one of a kind.  It combines the memoir with the form of a graphic novel.  The artwork is black and white and simply drawn, and at first I was unimpressed.  I have seen better artwork in a variety of webcomics.

Something about the starkness of the art though, mirrored the stark language in the memoir.  It wasn’t that it was simply written, but that you had the feeling that Marian Henley put all of herself out there to see as a way of talking about what her adoption experience was like.

This memoir is more than just an adoption story though, it is about transitions and the place between things – the transition into motherhood, the transition from confirmed bachlorette to married woman, the transition of her father from life to death…and how she handles each change as it comes.  The story through its wording exudes a sense of taking life as it comes, its ups and downs with dignity.

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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

December 7, 2008 at 7:15 am (Book Review)

This book was an amazing read.  I found that I just could not put it down, I had to know how it ended.  Sarah’s Key follows two timelines, alternating each chapter, and shows the developments in the life of Sarah, a 10 year old Jewish girl living in France, and that of Julia Jarmond; an American married to a brooding Frenchman, who is assigned to write about the history of an infamous roundup of Jews for the concentration camps.

Reading about Sarah, and what has happened to her throughout her life was heartbreaking.  Even though “Sarah” is a character of fiction, somewhere there were many girls just like her who faced horrors beyond our possibility to imagine.  Many passages found me curled on my couch, reading avidly, with tears in my eyes.  Tatiana creates characters that are enduring and heartrending to follow.

Julia becomes so obsessed with finding out the truth behind not only this horrifying round up and the French people’s willingness to pretend it never happened, but the truth behind the secret her husband’s family has been carrying so long that she risks the loss of everything in the process but her self respect.  Wrapped up in her own emotional journey, will she lose her husband’s love?  Read it and find out…

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Schooled by Anisha Lakhani

December 7, 2008 at 6:59 am (Book Review) (, )

This book was written with a delightful amount of snarky cynicism.  Her viewpoint on the private education system and the interaction between educators and parents is something that any teacher can sympathize with.  She skillfully conveys the emotional and moral dilemma she faces as she weighs a hefty paycheck, the life she has always wanted, and luxuries beyond what she ever expected against her professional ethics, personal belief system, and complete loss of time to herself.

There were times when I felt downright envious reading about the shopping sprees and parties – who wouldn’t want to live life like that?  Then again, there were a lot of times where as an educator, I have run into a lot of the same problems as this teacher did, except in a completely different economic class.  What teacher hasn’t struggled with getting students to engage in a lesson, do homework, or turn in original work?

There were passages, however, where the book seemed more like reading a bad soap opera or opening the pages of a lurid tabloid.  The actions of some parties just seems over written and false, and I am not sure if I could suspend my belief enough for it to pass, even for fiction.  This was a decent book, but not one of the best that I have seen published by Hyperion.

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Savvy by Ingrid Law

August 13, 2008 at 11:25 pm (Book Review) (, , , , , , )

Savvy by Ingrid Law

ISBN: 978-0-2037-3306-0

As if being a teenager and dealing with all the complications of adolescence and puberty weren’t bad enough, this family has another reason to anticipate and fear the onset of the teen years in their children. On the thirteenth birthday, something remarkable happens. Their “savvy” or special talent, wakes up and as the back cover says

“What if your grandpa moves mountains, one of your brothers causes hurricanes, another creates electricity, and now it’s your turn?”

Mibs Beaumont is waiting eagerly for her 13th birthday and the chance to find out what her savvy will be, however everything changed with the ringing of the phone. Her father is in trouble, and she has to face the onset of her savvy without the guidance of her parents. Determined to help her father, she sets out to find him by any means necessary, which results in a heap of trouble for her, her brothers, and some new friends they meet along the way.

I must say I really enjoyed reading Savvy. I think that this is just a great time for young adult fiction – so many great works coming out these days. This story of a young girl coming of age is so different from what is often found on the book shelves. Instead of concerns over the mall and television, you have a character with depth and determination. When I was middle school aged, there was so little out there for me to read or identify with that it was hard to get engaged in books meant for adolescent girls. I was reading my father’s science fiction and fantasy because it was far more interesting to me than what was offered in my age level, though often what I read was probably not age appropriate.

Though I wasn’t necessarily concerned about strange powers awakening, I think any teen can identify with the idea of being a bit different and standing out, and the process of coming to terms with it. Unlike so many other stories, Mibs doesn’t give in to other people’s expectations in order to find happiness, but becomes more comfortable in her own skin.

I am glad to have gotten the opportunity to read this book, and will be using it in my classroom. I work with middle school students and I really think they will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Thanks Ingrid, for making sure I got a copy of the book!

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The Lace Reader

August 5, 2008 at 7:48 pm (Book Review) (, , , )

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry is perhaps one of the most intriguing novels I have read this year. Her characters are richly detailed and easily come to life in your mind. The ending is surprising, and it leaves you stunned. I wanted to go back and re-read it immediately to try to catch more details. This story is so full of tiny details and hints that you could probably pick out something new every time you read it, no matter how many times you read it.

I wanted to read this novel when I heard about it because I used to work in Salem, MA. I worked at the Salem 1630 Pioneer Village, so was very familiar with the stocks that Cal displayed his young “confessed witch” in. I have a picture of my little sister in those same stocks. She captured aspects of life in Salem so well, it sent me on many a trip down memory lane as I read through the novel, yet it just added to the book instead of taking away from it. It made the characters more real to set them in so well to this familiar setting.

This story centers around Sofya Whitney or Towner as she prefers to be called. She comes from a family with a long history of women who could read the future through images they pick out in patterns of lace. I am not 100% sure that this describes an actual practice or not, but given the number of things that the human mind can distinguish patterns in, I would not be surprised if it is an actual tradition either. What matters for the story though, is that it is richly described and meticulously detailed and is the mechanic that moves the plot in new and interesting directions, and informs the reader that all is not as it appears.

Rafferty, a detective that befriends Eva, the matron of the family, tries to get close to Towner and is one of the people in the end who is most successful in helping her through her many ordeals. The high praises that Eva gave of Towner conflicts with the town’s opinion that she was plain crazy, and causes him to dig deeper to solve the mysteries of her past. Towner narrates chunks of her past as you read through the book, but as you read, you learn that her memory has holes, and after all, she is a self confessed liar.

This book contains mysteries within mysteries, what really happened to cause Eva’s disappearance? Who was behind it? What lays behind Towner’s aversion to reading the future hidden in lace, or to being read herself? Though Towner desperately wants to leave Salem and never return, all her hopes, fears and past history lay in these streets – what is she running from? Once I started reading it I was unable to put it down.  To find out all of the answers to these questions, run to the nearest book store and pick up a copy!

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A Quest, A Question and Answer session, and a contest!

July 26, 2008 at 5:03 am (Book Review, Contest) (, , , , , , )

I recently wrote to Kamilla Reid, author of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus, about reviewing her book, she responded quickly, and here is my review of her amazing new book:

Root Karbunkulus: An orphan taken in by unscrupulous aunts that decide to raise her as a way of gaining cheap labor. She doesn’t quite fit in with her town or her family, and feels like something important is missing in her life. It all changes with the ringing of a phone…

The Questory of Root Karbunkulus is a delight for all ages. It is an excellent work of youth fantasy. It reminds me of a type of Cinderella story if Cinderella had been written by someone who felt women should be strong and make their own way in the world.

Read along and embark on Root’s adventure as she explores a newfound home, DréAmm, and follow the first of at least 6 quests. Cheer her on when she is triumphant and be caught up with indignation when things don’t go well for her. She is a likeable character that anyone can identify with – unless you were lucky enough to never feel awkward and out of place as a teenager.

An epic quest for a prize with competing groups narrowing until only 2 teams remain…

As the story unfolds lessons are learned, legends are overturned, and new ones are made as these young heroes quest for the hidden treasures of DréAmm. The world is fun of fanciful, whimsical delights; there is a smile at every turn. You find yourself “rooting” for Root as she tries to acclimate to a new environment and finally find something much more valuable than the treasure they are hunting: friends, mentors and a place to belong.

This book would be excellent for use in the classroom, but I would caution that it should be read by advanced readers with good reading comprehension, unless there is an adult available to help the students puzzle out the meaning of the words. The prose is utterly charming, but some of the phrasing at the beginning had me needing to reread the occasional paragraph for clarity. Not much is explained in advance, this is no omniscient narrator, you learn things as Root learns them herself, giving you a good idea as to her excitement, curiosity and confusion. This book would make an excellent read out loud book to engage students in reading and figuring out the meanings of new words.

I give this book Two Thumbs up, and have been recommending it to all of my friends!

I am only left with one question: “When will the next one be published?!”

Check out the author’s award winning trailer at her website:

http://www.rootkarbunkulus.com/

And now for my most excellent news:

ASK THE AUTHOR:

The author, Kamilla Reid, will be visiting my blog on July 31st! Post your questions for her here, and on the 31st she will be visiting to answer them!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!!!

Kamilla has also generously donated some great items, such as an extra copy of her book to be given away here on the blog!

Rules:

o Post a question for her in order to enter. Be sure to include your email addy

o Linking to this blog entry (and then posting a comment with your entry linking to my blog) will earn you two extra entries if posted by July 30th, and one extra entry after that.

o The person that posts the most insightful (in my opinion) question will also receive an extra entry for this contest.

o I will notify the winner by email on August 4th!

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Aberrations

July 26, 2008 at 5:02 am (Book Review) (, , , , , )

This Review is of the book Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

Abberations was a complete joy for me to read. Angel’s search for the security of love and that which she defines as mother-ness is heartbreaking as she both succeeds and fails to find what she is looking for. Having moved to Houston, this book feels like a slice of what that general part of the south must have been like in the 80’s, and some of it doesn’t feel so distant if you are involved in the GLBTQ rights movement.

Angel is a 22 year old graduate student that is trying to make it by with one parent, two jobs, three friends and a never ending list of questions. She is caught up in several difficult situations. The man she loves is married to someone else, her father is about to remarry a woman that is determined to turn her life upside down, and she is seeking out something, anything, that feels like being mothered. She finally finds a mother of a sort, though it wasn’t anything like she thought it would be, and discovers the sense of mother-ness in a way that she never expected to find it. There is just one more problem, she is struggling to live a semblance of a normal life while struggling with narcolepsy before there were medicines to make managing it much easier. Finally deciding to find relief from her disability through recreational pharmaceuticals and date someone without telling them about the narcolepsy, she finds out that you can’t outrun a problem that lives inside your own body…

The interactions between the people in this novel are complex and as the story unfolds, you are caught up with this motley cast of characters as they navigate their lives through and around and despite each person’s aberration. No one seems to be quite functional, but they all manage to make it work somehow.

Penelope’s description of life as a narcoleptic is hauntingly accurate if you happen to suffer from it the way I did. Before being diagnosed, it could be maddening to experience cataplexy – you think you are losing your mind as you lay there, able to see, to hear, to THINK and respond inside your own head to the external stimuli around you. However not one muscle can move – you lay there helpless – on the floor at the store, school, your partner’s apartment. In those days it wasn’t something that you could easily hide if you had a moderate to severe case of it. Some narcoleptics are lucky – they only experience the EDS or excessive daytime sleepiness. I can sympathize with Angel – during the 80’s the treatments consisted of daytime stimulants, antidepressants that may or may not help cataplexy, and perhaps something to encourage sound sleep at night. These days narcoleptics can find much better medicine, but they function in ways that the medical experts don’t really understand. Let me tell you – being given highly regulated drugs and being told that they have no idea why they work is not the most comforting of experiences! If you want to find out more about narcolepsy check out the following websites:

Narcolepsy Network

Wiki on Narcolepsy

Like the book? Join Penelope Przekop’s fan site on Facebook at:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Penelope-Przekop/30644131184

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Just Chillin’

July 16, 2008 at 5:47 pm (Book Review) (, , , )

This isn’t a new release, but I made a decision to myself that I would review all of my college textbooks as I go along, because some texts are clearly better than others.

Just Chillin’ is a case study of adolescent development. It takes place at a Middle School near Baltimore Maryland, a primarily middle to upper middle class community in a suburban neighborhood. It follows several students in 6th, 7th or 8th grade, with each student chosen to highlight a particular aspect of adolescent development. Eric represents the family relations aspect, Lily the social aspect. Another student, Jackie was representative of “the average sexual experiences of middle school students” I put this in quotes not because it is directly from the text, but to underscore my sarcasm at this. I think that this book has an overly naive view of how middle school students are, and how inexperienced they are these days.

I think that the author went through considerable effort to produce an entertaining and readable case study, but because it reads more like a novel, I was surprised to find it was actually a researched case study. Perhaps I just didn’t do my homework, but the casual tone of this makes it less believable as a properly performed case study. I also question the value of this book for a course on adolescent development in a program that focuses on inner city middle schools.  Our students don’t have the kind of family structure or lifestyle that is portrayed in the book. I would like to see a case study along the same lines at a type of middle school that is far more common.

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