Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Five Nights at Freddy's review

I grabbed this book to read over the holiday break because it was flying off the shelves during the Scholastic Book Fair. According to the blurb on the back, it takes place in 1995, ten years after a series of children were kidnapped and murdered at Freddy Fazbear's. Freddy's seems to be a fictitious sibling to Chuck E. Cheese's, with the arcade games, animatronic entertainment, pizza and rides that are described.


It sounded like the makings of a great story, especially for a reader who's a child of the 80's and 90's. Not only was Chuck E. Cheese's THE place to go for birthday parties and Friday nights, but the danger lurking in this story is one that was very real to children of that generation. For kids nowaways, there are all sorts of epidemics that they hear about: obesity, bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, etc. But when I was young, the big theme of our school presentations and our parents' lectures was Stranger Danger. The kidnapping and death of Adam Walsh brought every parent's worst nightmare into the national limelight, and it seems that every region had its own sad story of a child vanishing. I always say that the engine of a horror story is the reader's ability to relate. It's not really that scary if we know it could never happen to us. But accepting the grim reality that horror can strike anytime is what makes the genre so exciting and taboo.

I was expecting to really enjoy this book.

But I commented more than once to my husband that I don't understand why the middle school students were so eager to buy this book. First of all, it's almost 400 pages, which is pretty long for some of them. But it's not merely the length, the action unfolded at a dinosauric rate! Based on the description of kidnappings and murders, I expected to be catapulted right into the heart of the story. Instead, I found myself being introduced to an entire cast of characters, suffering through a very juvenile budding love story and trying to figure out how much I'd need to suspend my grip on reality. Like, why are the crayon lines on the old drawings moving? Is the character imagining it, or is there some sort of supernatural evil at work here, in addition to an actual human murderer? And I quickly tired of the intentionally vague exposition. For example, someone would ask Charlie (the main character) if she stays in touch with her mom, and she'd think "Too much grief hung between us." I had no idea she even had a mother because that detail wasn't mentioned for the first 100 pages or so; I had just assumed she never had one.

It's a long book, and there's a lot of description, and a whole cast of characters, and yet it seemed like I wasn't getting the whole story.

I did just a little bit of research and found out why; this book is based on a video game.

Five Nights at Freddy's is horror-themed video game series, a indie that's available to play for free online. That is probably why the kids already knew about it and why they were so eager for it. The storyline in the book is similar to the one that's revealed during the course of game play. The game utilizes jump scares, similar to horror films, by having the villains 'pop up' suddenly in the gamer's view.

Now that I know how this novel came to fruition, I can appreciate it more in terms of what it's doing for the horror genre and the story's multi-media presence, and I am going to include it in the Horror Reader's Advisory page that I maintain for the library, but I am going to note on it that it's probably more enjoyable for readers who are already familiar with the story.  I have a section in my Readers Advisory that is specifically for books with multi-media appeal, like the popular Skeleton Creek series, and the Sunshine Girl novels, which were created by a popular YouTuber, whose videos create a series of paranormal stories that star her.




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls

I don't read many murder mystery stories. I find forensic science fascinating, and I watch a lot of television shows and documentaries on how murders get solved, but I don't read them often. Perhaps the reason is because I prefer ghost stories, so when I try to read a story that involves death, I'm waiting for the ghost to come back and take revenge, or at least scare the crap out of someone. If I know that a ghost isn't going to show up, then it's hard for me to stay motivated to keep reading.

I guess that might be the reason why it's taken me so long to complete this book. I've picked it up several times, but it seemed I always got distracted and put it aside, probably in favor of a ghost story. But I resolved to read it because it's one of the only books by Mary Downing Hahn that I hadn't read yet, and I had plenty of time during the long drives we did at Christmas time to visit relatives.



Reading this book reminded me why I fell in love with Hahn's story-telling. It speaks to me. The first book of hers I ever read was Wait Till Helen Comes, and I remember how much I enjoyed the character Molly's narration because it was filled with the kind of thoughts I had myself regarding Death. That great unknown filled me fear and awe and led me to question what I'd been taught; furthermore, it validated everything that I thought and reassured me that I was not the only kid who considered that maybe there are other possibilities than just dying, sprouting white wings  and floating up to Heaven.

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is not a ghost story, but it is an examination of death. How it affects a community and why people sometimes jump to the easiest explanation and also how it can shake the belief systems that we have always taken for granted. After her friends Sheri and Bobbi Jo are senselessly murdered one day while walking to school, Nora struggles to understand why it happened and what it means in terms of the Catholic beliefs she was raised on. How can something so tragic be part of a "master plan"? How can she believe that their deaths are not in vain if their murderer is never found and punished? Why did a ten minute difference in the walk to school determine two girls' fate while she and her other friend continued on to school without a clue as to how that horrible day would unfold?

Whenever something tragic happens, we are left asking ourselves "Why did this happen?". Some people take comfort in the belief that whatever injustices or hardships we suffer during our time on Earth will be balanced out afterwards with a reward of eternal life. And some people struggle to believe that. I liked Wait Till Helen Comes because it didn't talk down to its intended audience by explaining away the idea of a ghost with a ridiculous Scooby Doo type ending, like "Oh, it wasn't a ghost, it was just a sheet flapping on the clothes line the whole time!" It allowed the reader to believe that maybe the afterlife is more complicated than angels and Heaven. And I liked Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls similarly because it doesn't have a neat ending, with a dramatic confession from the killer or a crack team of cops that locate the most unlikely suspect. It reminds me that life is more complicated than we like to believe, and the most obvious idea, the one's that's most convenient to believe, isn't necessarily the correct one. We always hope for justice when terrible things happen, but sometimes we need to be satisfied with accepting the terrible things that happen, without understanding them. It's the only way we can retain some semblance of peace.

A Dog's Purpose

I’ve long become accustomed to long car rides, and now I look at them as an opportunity to catch up on my reading (but not while I’m driving obviously). Going to see my family in Western NY for Christmas meant a long car ride, 11 hours in the car. Fortunately I had just received one of the books I ordered from the library.

I devoured A Dog’s Purpose.  I saw the trailer for the movie a couple months ago and it looked good, but when I learned it was based on a novel I knew I had to read it first. I’m always a sucker for animal stories, especially ones about dogs, and I don’t think I’d read one so fast and furiously since Marley and Me was first published.



Marley and Me is the story of a special dog as told from a human’s view, and A Dog’s Purpose is the story of a special dog told from the dog’s point of view. What drew me to this story is the idea that this dog is not just one dog, but that the spirit of this dog is reborn in different  bodies throughout a few decades. Everyone has, I hope, a special pet. The one that no other pet can compare to because they filled our life with such joy and meaning, and when we finally have to say goodbye, it wrecks us. A Dog’s Purpose offers we who have been wrecked by the death of a special pet hope because it allows us to imagine the possibility that our faithful friends are never really gone, they just come back in different forms.

The dog begins his journey as a nameless mutt. His feral mother fears human contact and shuns people, but he is taken in by a well-meaning woman who cannot close her door, or her heart, to any dog. Unfortunately, this leads to his demise because when the authorities are called in, and they take note of his situation and his deficiencies, his fate is sealed and he is euthanized. It’s sad to imagine an animal so young fall victim to circumstance, but that’s why the reader ca so eagerly believe that he gets another chance at life. In order to enjoy this book, the reader needs to imagine that it might be possible. He is reborn as a golden retriever who is taken in by a loving family, specifically a boy named Ethan. He lives his life as Ethan’s constant companion, seeing him through all the trials and tribulations of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. When his physical body finally gives out, he is lovingly cared for and he receives the dignity that his previous life, and death, did not afford him.

Although the boy showed him what love is, the dog’s purpose is not yet fulfilled. He comes back in a couple more bodies, sharing his life with other people who need him and he begins to understand that his rebirths are not random; rather, each life he has is connected to the next. In each body, he learned something that made him purposeful and worthwhile, and his worth to humans is what allows him to keep coming back.

I’ve already given some spoilers away so I don’t want to ruin the ending, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dogs or animal stories or just good character development.

I will say that I have a special dog. Maybe she never learned any fancy tricks like the one in the book, but that alone does not determine one’s worth. She was the dog that no other dog will ever be able to compare to. I never wanted to say good-bye to her, and now that I read this book I indulge myself by thinking that maybe I didn’t. Maybe she’s around right now, in a different body, making someone else happy. When you fall in love with a dog, like Ethan fell in love with Bailey, or like I fell in love with Jasmine, it makes it difficult to see yourself getting another dog . But I know someday I will. Someday I’ll walk into a shelter, and I’ll walk up and down the aisles of kennels, looking in on the dogs. I’ll look into each dog’s eyes, and maybe one will already know me.

                                               me and Jasmine in 1992                 me and Jasmine in 2007



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Snow White graphic novel review

Warning: Even though everyone knows the story of Snow White, there are some spoilers here in terms of this particular rendering of the story and the artist’s vision of it.

Yesterday at work I saw one of our new graphic novels on display, so I picked it up for some light reading. It’s an adaptation of Snow White, and I love seeing fairy tales reimagined and reinterpreted so I knew it’d be interesting at least. I ended up falling in love with this rendition of it.


Matt Phelan has set the story in the 1920’s and 30’s in New York City, and the novel’s format is reminiscent of film noir from that period. In the classic story, Snow White gets her name because her mother pricks her finger while sewing and admired the way the color looks against the black trim of the window and the fresh-fallen snow upon it (and then obviously she dies while Snow White is still very young).  That element is still present in Phelan’s book but instead her mother succumbs to tuberculosis and the red blood spots are on her handkerchief, which contributes to the updated setting of the story. Most of the pictures are black and white, and the red punctuates the visual narrative.

The essence of film noir is that it is a stylized genre of cinematic story-telling which conveys a mood of mystery and menace. It was utilized in detectives stories and thrillers and featured stock characters such as femmes fatale and cynical cops. Samantha/Snow White’s father is a Wall Street millionaire who falls in love with a Ziegfield starlet, a beautiful but narcissistic woman.



The illustrations of her resemble well known stage and film actresses from the time period such as Louise Brooks or Theda Bara. When the crash hits her husband’s interests hard, she “fixes him a drink.”

Samantha/Snow White flees for her life and makes the acquaintance of seven young boys who reside in a local Hooverville, and they take it upon themselves to look out for the beautiful, naive young lady with seems so out of place in their world.

Staying true to the text, Snow White falls victim to a poisoned apple that is sold to her on the street.

Notice the red again

The heart-broken boys don’t know what to do with her body, so they place her in a beautiful store-front window that’s decorated like a winter wonderland, and the window replaces the traditional glass coffin. And since there weren't any European princes roaming around Manhattan at the time, it's the young detective who sees her laid out and instantly falls in love with her who kisses her.



Because the fairy tale is so well-known and doesn’t require much explanation, the text is sparse and the illustrations do most of the story telling. There are pages which precede each chapter that are modeled after silent film screen credits.

The illustrations are pencil sketches with watercolor details which are beautiful on their own, even without a well-known fairy tale behind them. It's a quick read because of the minimal text and because everyone already knows the basics of the story, but most readers will go back again to look at the illustrations. A great pick because of its potential for historical fiction discussion and visual literacy lessons.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Transcendentalist Ideals of Love and Marriage in 1994's Little Women

My loving husband gave me one of my Christmas gifts early last night. The soundtrack to the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women. I've been listening to it, and thinking about how much I love that movie. I know that this film is not the most faithful to Alcott’s text, but that’s mostly because the storyline was condensed and the tone of the film seemed a little more modernized. It doesn’t matter to me though because this film is the reason I fell in love with the story, and with the concept of Transcendentalism.

In short, Transcendentalism was a movement that came about in the first half of the 19th century in New England, and it professed that divinity is found in all aspects of nature and humanity. It was a progressive movement, especially in terms of women’s rights. As Professor Bhaer tells Jo “We throw off our constraints and come to know ourselves through insight and experience”, meaning that we can better ourselves by reflecting on what we have done and making conscious efforts to improve our future actions.

During her life, Alcott was flooded with letters from young girls who desperately wanted to know why Jo had not married the boy next door when he was so obviously in love with her. As I think more and more about my own ideas of love, and how they have matured as I have grown and become a married woman, I have my own theories about the theme of Transcendentalism and how it’s at work in the love/marriage plot points of Little Women.

Meg: Meg is the oldest girl, and unlike her sisters, she can actually remember what it was like when the family had a disposable income. Although she tries to make the best of her family’s situation, and tries to be a positive role model for her sisters, she is disappointed that she misses out on the finer things. In the film, she looks wistfully at the Lawrence house and says “I shouldn’t mind living in such a fine home and having nice things.” And of course there is the infamous scene at the Boston debutante party, during which she sips champagne and flirts and wears a much more revealing dress than she would otherwise, imagining what it must be like to have “four proposals, and twenty pairs of gloves”.



While it’s clear that she would enjoy a life made easier by money, she decides to marry for love. When Jo insensitively criticizes her fiance, John Brooke, Meg defends him: "He’s a good man. He’s kind and serious, and I’m not afraid of being poor.” Meg goes on to marry John Brooke, and later welcome their twins, Daisy and Demi.



Amy: Amy, being the youngest girl, is a little spoiled.


She is like Meg in her desire for a fine home and fashion trends, but because she is the youngest, she has never had to act as a role model for anyone, and thus she has not matured like Meg must have, years beforehand. While Amy is studying painting abroad, she is courted by Fred Vaughn, a Harvard chum of Laurie’s. Laurie learns of their courtship during a chance meeting in France, and when he questions her about her hopes she informs him that she expects a proposal “any day now.” He intuits that while she respects Fred, and certainly enjoys the prospect of a life of wealth, that she does not actually love him. Although he had been haplessly wandering around Europe, while spending money and courting women of his own, Laurie decides to make himself worthy of proposing to Amy, and goes to London to establish himself in his family’s business, asking her to not to do anything they might regret (like, marry someone else). It would have been very easy for Amy to marry Fred Vaughn, certainly a respectable man, and go on to live a life of ease, but Laurie’s request forces her to reflect on her options. Perhaps rather than choosing the easiest, and surest option, she should consider one that will take longer and might not bring as much money as the other, but represents love rather than security.



Laurie: Laurie enjoys a friendship with the March family from the beginning of his time in Concord. He plays with them, helps them, even spoils them a little, and most of his actions are in the spirit of brotherly love. When Meg confides in him that she envies the other girls at the debutante ball, he whole-heartedly tells her : "You're worth ten of those girls." He proposes to Jo, claiming to have fallen in love with her from the moment he clapped eyes on her.



She tells him that even though he is her dearest friend that she cannot marry him. Basically, she loves him, but she’s not in love with him. And when I think about the story, I’m not sure that Laurie’s really in love with Jo. To him, Jo is perfection, and I don’t think that equals true love. If Laurie and Jo had married, I’m sure they would have had alot of fun, but since they’re not in love, they never would have tried to improve themselves for the sake of each other. Laurie needed Amy, and the idea of losing her, to push himself into entering the family business and make himself a providing husband.



Likewise, Amy needed Laurie to make herself understand that being in love with someone is not easy.

Jo: Jo is obviously the March girl who becomes closest to Laurie (at least at first). Their friendship develops easily and naturally and is marked with much playing and laughing and good conversation. It’s no wonder that she refers to him as her dearest friend.



But Laurie accepts all her flaws without question, and when he proposes to her, she is still far too young to understand the realities of adult love and marriage. It’s not until she makes the acquaintance of Friedrich Bhaer that she finds a man who is going to challenge her and inspire her to grow. Not because he demands it, but because she loves him and wants to grow with him. Now, instead of doing the same things she’s always done, like ice skate and act out plays, she writes a novel and attends the opera and begins making plans to found a school, alongside someone who has taught her.


With Jo’s own maturing ideas about love, she also becomes more accepting of others. She first criticizes John Brooke for being “dull as powder” and and brattily asks Meg “Can’t you at least marry someone amusing?”, and later she realizes that a good marriage is more than having fun.

Falling in love is perhaps the easiest thing; it happens without us even trying or thinking about it. But being in love with someone, whether you’re actually married or not, is something that requires a great amount of effort. The practices of Transcendentalism are at work not only in the actual dialogue of the movie, but can also be interpreted in the more subtextual elements regarding the themes of love, courtship and marriage. In each character's story, they had to look within themselves and decide to overcome a shortcoming or a flaw, and make the conscious choice to grow in order to enjoy happiness in love.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ideas Just Keep Coming

It's always a struggle to limit how many projects I begin.

Everyone knows I have alot of dollhouses. Maybe too many. But no matter how many I have, I keep getting ideas to make more.

In my last post I mentioned how much fun it'd be to do the Wormwoods' home from Matilda. Think tropical print wallpaper, animal print furnishings, huge lamps, lots of mirrors and flamingos in the front yard. Tacky enough for Zinnia Wormwood?





My son has recently discovered the magic of Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and during one of our recent viewings I thought how much fun it'd be to make Pee Wee's playhouse.

Even doing the outside would be alot of fun


And I'm still hoping to do a Nightmare Before Christmas house, and just today I picked up a black and silver bottlebrush tree ornament, which would be perfect for it, if I ever get it started.

I think Jack Skellington would approve.

But I suppose I should concentrate on the many, many dollhouses I already have going. Still trying to work on the Beetlejuice one, and now that Christmas is approaching, I have a few Christmas-themed ones that are always getting added to.

I don't know if I have the time and attention and space in my house to do another dollhouse anytime soon, so I guess I'll just have to keep my eyes open for dollhouses or other mediums that could be used for these scenes at thrift stores.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Big Eyes and Souls for Sale

I just finished watching Big Eyes, the biopic about the artist Margaret Keane. Like many people in the modern world, I recognized her work long before I knew her name or anything about her. The story of her success is fascinating.


 I love period films but even more appealing to me was the message at the heart of her story. For years, she allowed her manipulative husband to take credit for her work, posing as the creator of the Big Eyed Waifs because they thought a male artist would be taken more seriously and make better sales. It reminded me of a recent conversation I had. I was talking to one of my friends about the existence of evil/the Devil. My friend is a devout and practicing Catholic while I have landed somewhere on the spectrum between agnosticism and atheism. She said something about a particular person "selling his soul" and I immediately agreed with her.

Most of the time when we imagine people selling their souls, it's a literal transaction between a person and an incarnation of the Devil, and the motivation is greed. The literary tradition of a character selling his soul is referred to as Faustian, derived from the play The Devil and Dr. Faustus penned by Christopher Marlowe. The same theme can be found in the musical Damn Yankees, as well as more than a couple episodes of The Simpsons.

I may not believe in the Devil the same way that she does but I do subscribe to the idea that people "sell their souls"; sacrificing that innermost, sacred quality of your own uniqueness in exchange for money or success or reputation, etc.

One thing I have found myself struggling with in recent years is the idea of how I fit in with other adults I know. 'Fitting in' is the eternal adolescent dilemma (I know- I work in a middle school) but I think we underestimate how much it comes into play as we navigate our adulthood too. If I wanted to fit in perfectly with many of the people I encounter on a regular basis I would: have an iphone, buy my clothes at popular store like Kohls and Old Navy, live in a house on a cul de sac and that house would contain a kitchen with granite counters and stainless steel appliances. I admit that if someone I don't know very well comes over to my house I get a little self-conscious: the many dollhouses that I'm constantly working on, the handmade wind-chimes that line the porch, and my 'treasures' from the roadside and the flea markets and thrift stores make for an eclectic decor inside. It's nothing you'd find in a Pottery Barn- which reminds me of one of my favorite Friends episodes:



Fitting in is something most pre-teens and teens struggle with, and then if they're lucky they 'find themselves' and really nurture their interests, priorities and talents. In college it's alot  easier to "let your freak flag fly" so to speak. And then we seem to regress back into our adolescent dilemma: we get married (and I think you'll agree alot of those weddings look pretty much the same), we have babies and dress them in cute clothes and we buy our cars and homes and we want to look good while doing it all so we can post photos on Facebook or Instagram and see how many people like it.

Throughout the film, Meade (portrayed by Amy Adams) talks about how her paintings represent her feelings, and what she gave up when she allowed her husband to pose as the creator of her work: she basically sold her soul because she wanted validation of her artistic talent and because she did not want to cause friction in her marriage by being a female breadwinner.

SPOILER ALERT:

It's inspiring to see someone who has "sold her soul" be able to win it back again.

It allows me to believe that even if I do make some errors in judgement or give in to societal pressures to look a certain way, that I am not doomed to a dreary existence, wandering the world over as an empty husk who has lost her soul.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A few little adventures

I haven't been blogging so much lately because I've been keeping busy in other ways. It's fall, my favorite time of year, so we've been taking some road trips on the weekend, taking in the beautiful New England foliage and exploring new corners of our state.

A few weekends ago we ventured out to Gilmanton, NH. I saw the birthplace of HH Holmes- America's answer to Jack the Ripper. He was the first known serial killer. A little macabre for most, but right up my alley as a love of horror and history. We also visited Sith Meeting House Cemetery, which is the final resting place of author Grace Metalious. She penned the controversial novel Peyton Place, which was later adapted for film and TV. I have to admit that I hadn't read it before we visited her grave, but after reading a little about the author and her book, which was incredibly controversial when it was published in 1956, I immediately put it on request at the library. I finished it within a week. I'm not sure if I'm going to read the sequel or watch any of the adaptations but I'm glad I read it. It's full of all the juiciest types of gossip that swiry around any small town: which spouses are unfaithful, which children are spoiled brats (because of their parents), not to mention taboos like rape and abortion, which is why the people of her hometown shunned the author.

                                   HH Holmes birthplace house               Grave of Grace Metalious


This past weekend we journeyed all the way to the other side of the state to check out Madame Sherri's Forest. Madame Antoinette Sherri was a  costume designer from New York. As she became more successful, she began to buy land in Chesterfield, NH because she wanted to build an expensive mansion to serve as a summer house. After the home was completed, she was known for throwing extravagant parties, which was the thing to do in the 1920's. When her money ran out, she simply abandoned the home. It burned down in the early 60's, and now what remains are the stone structures, like the staircases, the fireplace, and the arches on the exterior.

Madame Sherri's home as it looked in the 20's

                                                            My little guy exploring              The stone arches
                                                            the fireplace



The story of Madame Sherri is a good representation of how the excesses of the 1920's contributed to the ensuring Depression. Which reminds me that I recently picked up a copy of The Great Gatsby that I need to get reading.  .  .


Lastly, we are having a celebration for Halloween at my school and we themed it around The Witches and Matilda since this year marked the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl's birth. 

I was having so much fun hanging books and playing cards from the ceiling (in order to represent the scene in the movie in which Matilda practices using her powers in her house) and I realized that it'd be ALOT of fun to make a dollhouse that's like the Wormwoods' house. Think of how wonderfully tacky that dollhouse could be!

And in Matilda's bedroom, there could be tiny books 'floating' around. 

*sigh* But I already have so many projects going, so I'll have to put a pin in this one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Leave Me and How It Feels to Fly

I just finished Gayle Forman's newest book. Forman is the best-selling author of YA books If I Stay (which was adapted into the 2014 film), Where She Went and I Was Here, among others. This is her first book written for an adult audience. It centers on Maribeth, who is a mother to two young children in her early 40's. The stress of her publishing career and motherhood, and the seeming lack of help from her well-intentioned but clueless husband conspire to land her in the hospital after suffering a heart attack and bypass surgery.

Even after she recovers enough to go back home, she becomes frustrated that she's thrust back into the role of caretaker of her job, husband, and children, and now her mother as well (who moved in "to help") and she yearns for just one person to take care of her. So she leaves.

She leaves behind her cell phone, her laptop, her ATM card, and pretty much any trace of her true identity. She takes a bus to another city and pays in cash for everything so she cannot be tracked down.

I liked this story, and I think pretty much any mother/working woman is guilty of a similar fantasy, and I'm not even going to defend that statement will a follow up. I related to the character of Maribeth and I'd recommend this book for fans of Jodi Picoult because many of the themes are similar, but there were a couple of sub-plots that didn't really resolve so much as fizzle out. 


Next up for me is a YA book titled How It Feels to Fly. Sam is a ballet dancer who has been sent to a camp for highly successful teen athletes and performers who are also struggling with emotional challenges.

I've only just begun reading it, and so far it seems as though her issue is not the typical eating disorder, but it more of a general body acceptance and negative self image monologue combined with anxiety and panic attacks. I generally enjoy books that feature teens struggling with mental and emotional issues but so many of them are interchangeable and fail to really stand apart from the others. I hope that this one will delve a little deeper into the issues that have already been introduced.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Best Surprises Come with Pizza

Being a librarian can be a pretty thankless job much of the time. Administrators might not understand the role the library is supposed to play in the school/community, staff members might not understand what types of tasks we spend our days doing (no- we don't just sit around and read all day) and students struggle to understand the logistics of library relations, like if we requested a book from another library yesterday, it's not going to be here this morning. We don't air-mail books overnight.

We do get some "thank you's" over the course of the day, but they're often the polite automatic responses that we're all programmed with to maintain general social courtesy.

Being an educator of any type- not just a school librarian- is often a thankless job. It's not like the kids are going to thank a teacher for assigning homework. It's not like the parents are going to thank you for making a project deadline the day after spring break ends when they've already planned a family trip to Florida. And it's not like the administrators are going to thank you for requesting more money for supplies.

I've pretty much made my peace with this reality because it's not as though I do my job to get recognition or praise, but it's always welcome.  .  .especially when it comes unexpectedly.

I taught college English classes for years, and I loved it. It was getting the best of both worlds: spending my days in a middle school, talking to kids about the books they love, and then going to a different educational environment where I could talk to adults about the issues that matter to them, and guide them in how to write about the things they love.

Today I made an impromptu stop at a local pizza place for a quick slice, and I recognized the young guy working there. I asked him if he's ever attended classes at Great Bay Community College, and he said that indeed, he'd taken one of my English classes a couple years ago.

He continued by saying what a great class it was, and even though he didn't continue his college career (at least not yet) that he really valued it. And then he gave me my slice of BBQ chicken pizza for free to show his appreciation.

I always enjoy seeing former students (middle school and college) and catching up with them, but his words meant alot to me. I'm not teaching college courses at the moment because I'm quite busy in Toddler Land, but it was nice knowing that my teaching had a positive impact on one of my students.

This has been a very busy and stressful school year already (and it's only the first month!) so I wanted to take a moment and record this nice interaction before it gets lost in the haze of lesson planning, timesheets, and daily commutes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"Here We are Now- Entertain Us!"

Peter Pan has long been one of my favorite stories, and it's also one of the best stories to analyze and critique, both because of the original text and because of all the slipstream possibilities that have been put forth into print and film. I finally got around to watching the 2015 film Pan and I felt compelled to write down a few thoughts I had while viewing it.  .  .

The best description for this movie I came up with is: A steampunk re-imagining of JM Barrie's characters and Neverland, in the function of a prequel, infused with a Harry Potter theme."

Let's break that down a little now:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction literature that features steam-powered machinery. Although it often takes place in the future, the cultural norms, language, and fashions are inspired by the Victorian age, so they along with the steam-powered machinery create an interesting tension between the past and the future.

The story does feature a flying ship (which is part of Barrie's classic, but also has a very steampunk feel) as well as cable cars and hot air balloons, and all the portions where the orphans are mining for Pixium.



And the major players like Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Princess Tiger Lily are all there in Neverland to remind us which story we're supposed to be caring about, but the actual story takes place before Pan and Captain Hook are sworn enemies. In fact, they are allies against the infamous Blackbeard. This is a clever insertion, as it is an allusion to Barrie's speech at Eton College, in which he identified James Hook as "Blackbeard's bo'sun" [boat swain=ship officer]. So the story of the characters is a prologue to the one we all know, but it's anachronistic because the setting appears to be World War I, which is a bout a decade after Barrie penned the play.

Aside from the gritty war-torn London setting (instead of the romanticized Edwardian Kensington Gardens version we usually see) is the inclusion of modern rock songs by The Ramones and Nirvana. Obviously those songs didn't exist for another 60 or 80 years, respectively.

Lastly, the thread of maternal love isn't exactly new; Barrie's text is wrought with maternal symbolism, obviously reflecting his personal life, but the aspect of Peter's mother being a warrior against the evil Blackbeard and sacrificing herself for the safety of her infant son, and then Peter seeing her spirit and making his peace with her death just reeks of Harry Potter.


I liked the concept of re-imagining Peter's life before Neverland as well as Hook's backstory, but I don't think it was executed very well. Also, there were way too many CG special effects to give the film and kind of soul. In terms of the slipstream, I think that Hook (1991) accomplished its vision better than this one did.

The only really good part was seeing the pirates sing "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Since You've Been Gone book review

First of all, I have to say that it's impossible for me to look at this book cover and not think of the Kelly Clarkson song of the same title. I don't even like that song, but I've heard it enough times on the radio to know the lyrics, and whenever I saw this book in the library or on my nightstand, that earworm would start up.

That aside though, this book was a fun YA read. Emily becomes fast friends with Sloane, whose bohemian parents move around constantly. One summer after returning from a family trip, Emily finds that Sloane's family has moved again, leaving her friendless. No goodbyes or explanations- just gone. Until that is, a mysterious list of tasks arrives in the mail that Emily must complete. Things like Sleep Under the Stars, Kiss a Stranger, Hug a Jamie. Her best friend has assigned these tasks to her not because she will be rewarded with a reunion but because doing those things will lead her to meet new people and conquer fears, so even with the sadness of losing her best friend, Emily will find some happiness.


It's not the most thought-provoking or intellectual YA book I've read, but that's not to say it's not a good book. I enjoyed the story, and it was an easy read- something I could easily slip into when I got into bed and read for a while before I got sleepy. There's a little romance in there, but the meat of the story is about friendship- old ones and the way we all struggle to forge new ones. I'll recommend it to students who like books such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and others that focus on female friendship.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Raina Telgemeier's newest book Ghosts!

I couldn't wait to read Raina Telgemeier's new book Ghosts. As I've written before, I became a huge fan of hers the first time I read Smile. Ever since then, I've eagerly awaited her books, and since this one was about ghosts, one of my favorite topics to read about, it was a little torturous waiting over a year for it.



I picked up the book this afternoon at B&N so the library can have a copy available ASAP, and I was excited that I'd be the first one to read it. As soon as I got home, I started in on it.

Well, actually, the first thing I did when I got it home was to take a nice long sniff  of it. It had that wonderful new book smell to it. I rarely buy new books because I either borrow them from a library (duh) or purchase used/vintage/antique copies at thrift stores.

My husband took this picture of me while I was busy sniffing the book:

Like Telgemeier's other books, Ghosts is a quick, fun read. I can read her books in about an hour, but most younger readers don't require a whole lot of time to finish them either. It's one of the wonderful things about graphic novels.  Finishing a whole book i a short span of time is really empowering for a kid, especially ones who struggle with reading and comprehension.

While Smile and Sisters are biographical, Drama and Ghosts draw some inspiration from the author's life, but they are fictitious. Ghosts centers on Cat, who is forced to move with her family to Northern California so that her younger sister Maya, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, can reap the benefits of the cooler climate.

They move to a town that prides itself on its ghosts; specifically, the ghosts of long-dead people who return to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday that honors family members who have died.

I love reading about ghosts because I love horror, but readers who aren't into horror shouldn't keep away from the book because of that aspect; the ghosts are comical and make the subject of death- realism for families who are forced to deal with cystic fibrosis complications on a daily basis- much more accessible for younger readers and even light-hearted. Telgemeier's story is genuine, and communicates the relatable emotions of all her others, but it's not a somber story. Her familiar style of drawing and the colorful contributions of Mexican imagery give the book more of a celebratory mood rather than a frightening tone.


A graphic novel that includes Spanish dialogue and an introduction to Mexican culture is a welcome addition to pretty much any library collection as we all continue to advocate for diversity in our literary lexicon.

I admit that Smile is, and probably will always be my favorite Telgemeier book, but Ghosts is a unique story, and a worthy contribution to an art form that is so often boiled down into superheroes and manga.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- no spoilers, so don't worry

I'm only 1/2 through it now, but I just started reading it this morning around 11:00, so I'm sure it won't take too long for me to finish it.



I didn't rush to get this book, as I did the novels, but I'm glad to be reading it now.

I'd forgotten how wonderful it feels to slip into another world. I mean, I'm always reading and slipping into other worlds, but the Wizarding World created by JK Rowling is one that's so familiar to me now that reading another story  about Harry, Ron and Hermione feels so natural. I don't have to sit and think about what things 'might' look like because I know what they look like. I've read the books and seen the films and visited Platform 9 and 3/4 in London and drank butterbeer in Hogsmeade (via Universal Studios). I even created my own magical used bookstore in 1:12 scale. This is a world that I can slip into with very little effort now.

And on a personal note (more personal than usual)- I picked up this book yesterday at my library, and it felt right. Yesterday was the anniversary of my cousin Madeline's death, and Madeline loved the Harry Potter books. She grew up reading the series. She dressed up as Harry Potter one year for Halloween. I remember her posting on Facebook when the second part of the Deathly Hallows movie was released, about how it was the end of an era. After she died, I remember seeing her Harry Potter books neatly lined up on her shelves. I'm glad I didn't rush out to buy the book a couple weeks ago because reading it now is an appropriate way to honor her.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A New First

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I turned down a job offer.

I saw the job posting a couple of weeks ago, and even though I had no real intention of leaving my current job, I decided it would be foolish not to explore other options.

I wasn't sure if they would even be interested, as I'm sure almost any job seeker has had the experience of applying for a position and then never hearing anything about it again. As it turns out, they wanted to meet with me, and I decided that since I'd already gone through the process of applying (which can be quite tedious when using online forms) I might as well see where it led.

As the interview approached, I became increasingly nervous. What if I wasn't prepared to answer certain key questions? I wasn't very familiar with the community or the school, and I wasn't sure if that would be a detriment. I am confident in some of my abilities working in a school library, but I am the first person to admit that learning technology is a struggle for me, and a working knowledge of technology is pretty standard in most jobs now, especially in the education realm.

I expressed my concerns to some very supportive friends, and they reminded me that I should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing me. It wasn't a matter of me trying to convince them that I am the ideal person for the job- it's a matter of both parties trying to determine the best fit.

It was a little stressful, prepping for an interview that I hadn't really planned on having, and when I declined the job offer, I was guilt-ridden because I felt like I had wasted the time of the people who spoke with me. However, I do believe that it was worth it because even though I have grown comfortable in my school and my library, we should never become so comfortable that that we stop challenging ourselves.

In the interview process, I was forced to think about which parts of my job I really value, and what parts I am not willing to sacrifice, at least not now.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Soaked in Bleach

Last night I wandered downstairs because I was having trouble sleeping. The documentary Soaked in Bleach had been popping up on my Netflix suggestions for some time- like "Watch me! Watch me!" so I decided to give it a go.



I must admit that it's only in my adulthood that I've come to appreciate Nirvana's contributions to music and pop culture. Yes, I was alive in the 90's but I was only 13 when Cobain died, and I was too busy doing the Macarena and watching Full House to get enveloped in the angsty, grungy Seattle sounds that were being played on the local radio station The Nerve. I knew the songs of course, but they were just part of my environment, and although I wore a healthy amount of flannel, I never listened closely to the lyrics of these songs.

The documentary doesn't really focus on Cobain, or his music; it's really dedicated to pointing out the inconsistencies in investigation into his death, and the stories surrounding it.

Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, hired a private investigator to find her husband after he fled from a rehab facility. That detective, Tom Grant, makes no secret about his suspicions that Love was not being honest about Cobain's disappearance, or their marriage.

I love reading and discussing conspiracy theories, but Grant denies that this is a conspiracy theory. It's certainly not as outlandish as some of the ones involving the Holocaust or the assassination of John F. Kennedy; this documentary is simply presenting a timeline of events, highlighting the reports and statements (by Cobain's wife and friends as well as lawyers and law enforcement) that are problematic to the suicide scenario that has come to represent the legacy of Nirvana.

Obviously, Cobain and his wife and their circles were heavily involved in drugs, and any kind of altered consciousness is going to detract from someone's credibility anyways, so that's another issue involved when Grant was interviewing people around the time of Cobain's death.

The note in Cobain's writing, commonly believed as evidence of his suicidal intentions, is heart-breaking to read. It's not heart-breaking because it led to the end of a favorite band, it's just always heart-breaking to imagine any person who has reached a point where they believe death is the best option. I cannot imagine how much pain a person has to be in to consider it.


It doesn't take much for someone reading the letter to assume that someone writing about misery, apathy and self-destruction would take his own life, but legal investigations are not based on assumptions. All possibilities need to be explored. The film references the 2014 death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (who was one my favorites, btw). Hoffman was found in his Manhattan apartment, with a syringe still in his arm. Even though it looked like an accidental overdose, there was still a full investigation. Why wouldn't the same standard apply to an 'obvious' suicide?

In conclusion, I'd recommend this documentary to those interested in conspiracy theories, or true crime, and obviously anyone who's interested in music history.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tab Hunter Confidential

I've complained more than once about Netflix's poor selection of classic films, so I was surprised to find that there is a documentary streaming that centers on a classic film star.

I must admit that since I am so partial to the films and stars of the 30's and 40's, I don't know a whole lot about the ones that followed this period. Tab Hunter was a teen heartthrob for American girls throughout the 1950's, and I hadn't realized how wide his influence was, from song recordings to film and television. It's easy to see girls flocked to watch him on the big screen:

He's definitely easy on the eyes

However, Hunter had a closely guarded secret that could have killed his career- he was gay. Or rather I should say, he IS gay because as seen in the documentary, he's alive and well. Homosexuality in Hollywood has always been a very charged topic, and the socially conservative era of the 1950's was certainly not the ideal time for trying to raise awareness or approval for something that was seen as threatening or subversive.

Indeed, I have a book that I picked up at a flea market a few years back titled On Becoming a Man, which was a book on sexual development and other lessons of adolescence that was written for teenage boys. 
The guy on the cover even resembles Tab Hunter

This book, published in 1951 warns the young reader about the "freakish manifestation of human friendship" known as homosexuality. The writer continues to claim that this topic is being addressed because it's confusing to"normal people with wholesome personalities" to think that a person could be attracted to another of the same sex. The following chapter opens with the line "The female figure is fundamentally attractive to a young man, clearly reinforcing the heteronormative expectation.

Again, this isn't really a shocker, but it's fascinating to explore the world of the underground. Years ago, I read Scotty Bowers' memoir of illicit affairs during the Golden Age, and his role in this side of the screen stars' lives. Bowers claims that he arranged liaisons for film stars of all different sexual orientations, and that he had sexual encounters with some of the biggest stars of the time.


The book is in the style of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon books, which detailed the scandals of Hollywood, from Charlie Chaplin's very well known preference for teenage brides to the unsubstantiated rumors, for example the one that claims that sister starlets Dorothy and Lillian Gish shared an incestuous relationship. Bowers book differs from Anger's because while Anger merely collected tabloid headlines and hearsay and compiled them, Bowers is allegedly recounting his own experiences. That is to say, if he's telling the truth.

Anger's books have been largely dismissed as fiction, and although many seem skeptic of Bowers, the stories contained within do make for a good read if one is willing to consider them possible. Some of the people he claims to have had encounters with aren't difficult to understand why; Cary Grant's sexual identity has been speculated on since the 1930's. However, in the chapter where Bowers claims to have satisfied Spencer Tracy.  .  .I found myself dismissing the possibility. I know that Tracy had also been questioned in this respect, but it's just much more difficult to imagine.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hunter Confidential because it introduced me to a whole new world of films that I can watch now, appreciating them more because of the insight I've already gained. The film doesn't really provide a huge timeline of Hollywood history because it focuses on Hunter's own accomplishments rather than his fame in context of the time and industry, but I think a viewer who is even vaguely familiar with classic films would be able to appreciate the many photographs, tv spots, film excerpts and sound clips that make up this documentary. And obviously, the most valuable asset in this documentary are the interviews with Hunter himself, during which he speaks both nostalgically about the people he met during his fame and also frankly about his decision not to let his sexual identity define him. The filmmakers did an exceptional tying all the media together to illustrate the information being narrated. The producer, Allan Glaser, is actually Hunter's long-time partner, which lends an authentic sense of love and admiration to the piece.

Definitely worth watching.

And I also want to mention that the author of On Becoming a Man, Harold Shryock, also penned a manual for teenage girls:


Indeed, this book also contains a chapter warning young readers about "unhealthy friendships", claiming that "homosexual tendencies usually occur in persons who are otherwise poorly adjusted." It also reminds the readers to be grateful for the privileges of being [straight, white, middle-class] women in saying that:


Remember ladies, washing the dishes, ironing your husbands shirts, giving birth and changing diapers are your "cherished daydreams"!

Ahhhh, the 50's.  .   .  .