Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Droppin' a Baum

My newest YA book that I'm reading is Dorothy Must Die.

The cover caught my interest.

I've always been an Oz fan, though I admit that I am more loyal to the 1939 film than the books by L. Frank Baum.

Once I have created my own images of a fictitious world, it's a struggle for me to change them. I've been watching the film for as long as I can remember, and by the time I got around to reading about Oz, I couldn't really see it the exact way that Baum was describing it. Because of this, it's always difficult for me to strike up any enthusiasm for Oz's that differentiate from the technicolor one with the ruby slippers.
I've never read Gregory Maguire's Wicked series, nor seen the musical. I've never watched The Wiz. Although I like James Franco as an actor, I couldn't see him as Oz The Great and Powerful and I rolled my eyes when Legnds of Oz came outYears ago, I did try to watch the mini-series Tin Man and I did like the casting of Zooey Deschanel in the lead, but it seemed to be modernized just for the sake of novelty, and modernizing Oz isn't a novelty at all:

-the silent films modernized the books
-the 1939 musical modernized the silent films
- The Wiz modernized the 1939 musical

And so on, and so on.  .  .

I wasn't sure I'd get through the novel, but I ended up devouring it in just a couple days. This was an Oz that's been re-imagined as well as modernized. The protagonist Amy knows about Oz  the same way we all do: the movie. The tornado, the yellow brick road, the ruby slippers are all presented in technicolor glory punctuated with songs and dance. (Amy's surname is Gumm, like Frances Gumm before she became Judy Garland.)

But when Amy's trailer gets swept up in a tornado, she becomes the second girl from Kansas to travel Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

The problem is that Oz is stormier than ever.

Author Danielle Paige offers a punk rock interpretation of the classic tale, which is subtley illustrated with the cover image, in which Dorothy's dress, her avatar, has been defiled with red spray paint reading "DIE". It immediately reminded me of the cover for the Sex Pistols' single God Save the Queen, which features a defaced image of Queen Elizabeth II.

The muchkins have elaborate tattoos instead of flowerpot hats, Amy has pink hair instead of shiny brown pigtails, and Dorothy's signature gingham dress has been cut up and stitched back together.

But it's not like all the characters just walked out of Hot Topic; the punk rock theme is deeper than that. Punk is about resistance to tyranny. The questioning of authority, pushing back against established structures of authority, of government, of the way it is.  Questioning anything and everything.

Amy lands in Oz only to learn that Dorothy has eclipsed the Wicked Witch of the West. She is spoiled and greedy and cruel, far from the sweet farm girl we all know her to be. 

Her loyal friends have also devolved and they've all become obsessed with the traits they desperately wanted. For example, the Scarecrow is a mad scientist who experiments on the winged monkeys. She learns that Goodness and Wickedness are are not mutually exclusive, nor are they concepts that can be easily defined, because what is Good one day can be Wicked another day, and vice versa.

The newfound Wickedness of Glinda is nicely foreshadowed in Amy's hatred of the local Mean Girl, Madison Pendleton, who favors pink clothing and wears more glitter than Ke$ha.

Just as Amy pushes back against Dorothy the Dictator, I began interrogating my own loyalty to my preferred vision of Oz. I always felt that it was the truest Oz because even if it wasn't exactly Oz As It Was Originally Designed, it was Oz As It Should Be. But my reading a different interpretation of Oz doesn't detract from it. Questioning an established text is how we become more evolved readers. 

A sequel was published this year titled The Wicked Will Rise, so that's next on my reading list.

Also on my Oz reading list is the novella stories by Paige:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Documentary Interview

Yesterday we drove down to Salem, MA so that I could be interviewed for a documentary.

The documentary is focused on the book series Scary Stories to tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, and the original illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

I heard about this a while back on a Facebook page that one of my grad school classmates founded a few years ago. Our class has graduated, but the page has lived on, and now current Children's Literature and Library Science students join and post.

When I first heard about the documentary, I assumed it was a local student who was making it for a project or a thesis. It wasn't until a week ago that I did some Googling out of curiosity. As it turns out, this is a full-length documentary which includes interviews with descendants of  Schwartz. This fueled my excitement, and my anxiety.

I have never been on film before, and although I've always had an appreciation for the art of it, I never appreciated how exact the science of it must be. When it was my turn to sit down and discuss the books, I had a microphone wire taped to me underneath my shirt (so the wire wouldn't show), and after I was seated, it took a little while to adjust the lighting. They had to make sure that my face was lighted properly so I wouldn't look washed out, they had to ensure there weren't any shadows, and when they tried putting a light behind my head, it made my hair have an orange-y glow. I guess I'm no Technicolor Tess.

It was great to sit and discuss the books in a scholarly way; it's something that I've been hungry for sine I completed grad school.

I won't write everything I said yesterday here, but here are some highlights:

-tragic teen romances

-the enduring appeal of horror

-the evolution of scary stories in the Internet age

For more info about this documentary, please visit the official site: http://www.scarystoriesdoc.com/

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review: The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression

I recently started reading The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930's America by John F. Kasson.

The title is daring because of its claim that Shirley Temple alone remedied the decade of nation-wide unemployment, evictions, starvation and upheaval inherent in the Great Depression. As Lisa Simpson retorts, when Marge claims that Vicki Valentine (the fictionalized Shirley Temple)"brought America right out of the Depression", "I think World War II helped a little."

Books about the Golden Age of Hollywood are my catnip. They make me simultaneously excitable and irritable (because I wasn't alive to revel in it when it was actually happening). I happen to be a Shirley Temple connoisseur. I've been one for much of my life. I remember watching her tap dance up the stairs in The Little Colonel for the first time, and I remember talking to my great-grandmother about the Shirley Temple doll she had in her attic, which belonged to my grandmother as a little girl.

I inherited that doll, and my 18th birthday present was her restoration.

I have collected other Shirley dolls, but the one in the red and 
white polka dotted dress is my prized possession.

I've read her autobiography Child Star, and I own the Disney movie that's based on it. I also read the biography Shirley Temple: American Princess by Anne Edwards, as well as the children's book that was written by Gertrude Temple How I Raised Shirley Temple. 

So naturally I had to grab that book when I saw it on display at my local library.

This book is the most recent book on Temple. Prior to this, there had only been a handful of biographies written on her, which isn't surprising because since she penned her own story, no biographer was going to outshine her while she was alive to protect her legacy. Temple passed away in February of 2014, and a celebrity's death always renews the public's interest in his or her personal life.

I assumed that since the name Shirley Temple was in the title that it was a biography of her, but that's not quite accurate. The book is really a biography of the decade, viewed through a Shirley Temple lens.

For example, the first chapter in the book covers FDR: how the Hoover administration and the economic failings associated with it paved the way for the President to comfort his nation and offer hope for the future. I think the name Shirley Temple appeared once in that chapter.

I'm also noticing how this biography is more willing to interrogate Gertrude Temple's true intentions for her daughter's career. Whereas the story of Shirley Temple has been characterized as a charming youngster who was discovered by chance, this book directly addresses the financial impact of the Depression on the Temple family, and how Gertrude desperately wanted her daughter's career to be a lucrative investment. 

The book of course provides a general timeline for the evolution of film and the cinema, providing popular touchstones such as The Jazz Singer for an indication of the success of talkies, but it goes further than simply recounting film history and delves into analyzing why the miniature starlet stuck a chord with her audiences. It's more than just blonde ringlets and dimples.

Kasson writes that the stories told by Shirley on the silver screen addressed the widespread sense of shame and humiliation in the country. Her movies often depict her triumphing over male authority figures (grouchy grandfathers, miserly school chairmen, hucksters) and at that time, many men were unemployed and losing the breadwinner status. 

How does she triumph over them? She offers kisses and hugs and caresses and impish flirting to melt their macho hearts, which is a fairly common discussion point in Shirley Temple film criticism.

The interpretation of Temple's fame from a gender theory viewpoint is not the only literary scholarship Kasson includes; he also comments on the consumership involved in her films and merchandising mania, giving a Marxist flavor to his narrative.

The chapter titled Dancing Along the Color Line and the discussion of her dancing partnership with Bill Bojangles Robinson is also par for the course, though he does provide some context by reminding readers that this era of film was sowed on the "fertile ground of racism" that was nurtured by DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation. While the films of the 30's did not toe the racial divide in such an extreme way, the country's love for nostalgia led to the romanticization of slavery and the Civil War on screen. The Marxist flavor comes through again in this discussion, pertaining to how The Littlest Rebel was calculated to appeal to both Northern and Southern audiences, so as to not alienate potential profits.

I think my favorite part of the book is in Chapter 4, in the discussion of the Shirley Temple dolls. Kasson writes "Once purchased, usually as a gift, Shirley Temple dolls entered deeply into the imaginations of young girls" and then cites an oral history project in Rochester, NY.


I can't help but feel especially pleased that my home city, where I lived my childhood, and where my grandmother lived much of hers too, is mentioned in this book. It somehow validates my fascination with Shirley Temple and my collection of look-alike dolls.

Another point I'd like to make special note of is the final chapter, titled What's a Private Life? in which Kasson discusses the unfathomable fame that Temple achieved, and its price on her family and her privacy. Her parents regularly feared for her safety; blonde hair and widespread adoration do not ensure against inhuman violence, as evidenced by the Lindbergh baby's kidnapping and murder. The Lindbergh baby became a macabre child celebrity, and children's author Maurice Sendak recalled the country's fascination and experienced it as a "personal torment." Sendak is of course the author of the beloved classic Where the Wild Things Are, which has been challenged numerous time since its 1963 publication because it's "too dark and frightening." 

I can't help but get excited when my passions intersect. 

In closing, because the book is not strictly a biography of Shirley Temple, but rather of the time period, the details of her life are reiterated alongside some commonly chosen pictures, but Kasson does offer some fresh perspectives on her place in history and her impact on it.

If you're interested in Shirley Temple, film history or postmodern America, then it's worth a read.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Throwback Thursday Post: That Time I Met Jason Segel

I follow alot of bookstores and authors on social media. I am addicted to going to panel discussions, book signings and conferences. I still remember last fall when I saw a post from the Harvard Bookstore that Jason Segel was going to be in Boston promoting the middle grade book he'd written.

I thought I was dreaming. I LOVE Jason Segel. I've been a fan of him since he played Nick Andopolis on Freaks and Geeks. I found the entire series on DVD years back, and it's been watched many times in our household. 

 And even though Undeclared was even shorter lived than Freaks, I thought his character Eric was by far the funniest part of it.

Plus, my husband, who is named Eric, bears a resemblance to Jason Segel, and their birthdays are only two days apart, so I always joked to Eric that I should be allowed to pursue Jason Segel if I ever had the opportunity because it's a compliment.

It's too bad that my opportunity to meet him was while I was pregnant.

Anyways, we drove down to Cambridge with our friend Laura with our $5 tickets in hand. The event was in a historic church, and it was packed because the tickets had sold out. The line to get in the church was down the block.

We were lucky enough to score a bench area for all of us to sit comfortably (as comfortably as possible on old wooden pews) on the left side of the church.

The audience waited anxiously, and was overjoyed when Jason emerged. He spoke a little first about what motivated him to try writing a children's book, and read the first chapter from his book Nightmares!. At the end, he allowed the audience members to come up to the microphone and ask questions. We were even treated to an impromptu musical performance, during which he sang the Dracula song from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

(This is filmed by someone else, but I was in the audience!)

You haven't really lived until you've seen a Muppet-lovin 30 something celebrity bang on the ivories and sing about Dracula in a 400 year old church.

We were in luck because when it came time to line up to get our books signed, the line formed in the aisle that was right next to our pew, so we we didn't have nearly as long of a wait as some people did.

When it was my turn, I said "Hi, I'm Erin" and he said "Hi, I'm Jason." Despite the time crunch and the swarms of people, he was very nice and engaging. I told him  that I was getting one of the books signed for the library because "I'm a librarian" and he replied "Oh, that's awesome."

Because of the time crunch, Jason wasn't able to take posed pictures with everyone, so we had to settle for just having our picture taken as he signed our books.The pictures aren't very flattering (we blue-eyed people look like the Terminator in flash photos, plus I was getting too pregnant to wear my skinny jeans), but it's probably the only time I'll be this close to Jason Segel.

He said he is planning to make this title into a trilogy, and I am desperately hoping that he'll give more talks about it, in any state that is remotely possible for me to travel to. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Harry Potter dollhouse

I'm an exhibitor at the Maker's Faire this year, for the second time. The last time I was involved, I applied with the hope that I would meet other hobbyists. However, most of the people that were exhibiting were selling, and I was just there to have fun and try to meet other people with the same interest.

My husband came up with the name One Story Houses for my little booth, because I display the dollhouses I've made. Many of the dollhouses I make are inspired by favorite books and stories.

One of the dollhouses that's proved its popularity is The Odd Shoppe.

The Odd Shoppe is inspired by the little cottages and shops that make up Hogsmeade, an all-wizarding village frequented by Harry Potter and the students of Hogwarts. It's my own version of fan fiction; instead of creating my own characters and settings and plot lines in writing, I create them in 1:12 scale miniature scenes.

Like many of my other houses (I have alot of them) this one was rescued from a thrift store. It was already assembled, but needed to be decorated and polished.

I liked the front door with the ship design on the 'glass' but it didn't really match the magical theme, so I took out the window and made it look like a paneled door. I also added a door knocker (earring from Goodwill) in the shape of a lion's head, because the lion is the mascot of Harry's house Gryffindor.

The Odd Shoppe is kind of like a little used book shop, and also sells potions, owl accessories and other miscellany.

Hogsmeade is described as a quaint village resembling a Christmas card in the winter, but it seemed fitting to me that it'd be decorated at Halloween time.

The purveyor is Bartina Bogtrotter (whose name comes from references from The Simpsons and Roald Dahl's Matilda).

Bartina Bogtrotter is a character of my own creation, but the other characters present are all original ones from the books:
Dumbledore and Fawkes
(Fawkes was a keychain from the Orlando theme park!)


Dobby's on top of the cabinet, and 
Crookshanks is guarding Hermione's trunk

I know there are many Harry Potter inspired dollhouses out there, and I also know that the craftsmanship of mine is pretty amateur compared to them, but I am proud of the fact that mine has a sound mechanism hidden inside, that plays the theme music and really sets the scene.

As you exit, feel free to grab a piece of candy, and the latest issues of 
The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler:

Oh, and we can't forget the Butter Beer!

You should NEVER forget the butter beer!