Friday, November 18, 2011

Marian Librarian reviews: The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

Circus Week continues!

I had heard some glowing recommendations of this book from some colleagues and so, when trying to think of a book to go with my Circus Week, I sought it out.

The book is The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming.

Unlike some, I actually have a great affection for the Circus.  I'm aware of the controversies surrounding it.  I know all of the sort of seediness that people attribute to it, but I still enjoy it.

Barnum didn't invent the circus but he made it sparkle.  He found his calling in being a showman and was unapologetic about it.  He knew what people wanted and he gave it to them.

The story follows the entirety of Barnum's life, so truthfully the Circus doesn't factor in until very late in the story as he didn't even get into the circus game until he was 60 and didn't meet his business partner Bailey until he was 77.

Before that, you hear of his childhood, where he learned the value of practical jokes and the fact that he was an idea man rather than a hard worker.  It talks about how he met a local celebrity in his hometown of Bethel: an elephant named Old Bet.  Her owner made a small fortune taking her from town to town, so it was then that Barnum famously learned: "When entertaining the public, it is best to have an elephant."

Much of the story is dedicated to Bailey's exploits with his "American Museum," a place of curiosities, oddities, and animals.  It was chock full of things and people we would associate with documentaries on the Discovery Channel or Ripley's Believe it or Not.  This is the place where Barnum got his infamous reputation as a liar or "humbug."  His philosophy was that he just used his "humbugs" to draw people in, then entertained them.  They always got their money's worth.

It's interesting to melt the man with the seedy side-show image.  He was a deeply religious man, a friend to children, and the acts that some would say that he exploited, like the small man known as General Tom Thumb whom considered him a great friend.  He was not a perfect man by any means, but he was also not a mustache-twirling villain.  It's a fascinating look at the beginnings of an American institution and the man behind it.

There are anecdotes in here that are stories in themselves: how Barnum moved Circus's from 1 to 3 rings, the story of Jumbo the great elephant, the first circus train.  Also, stories of the people who crossed into his life: his partner James Bailey, the diva Jenny Lind (the inspiration for the Ugly Duckling who broke Hans Christian Anderson's heart), Mr. and Mrs. "Tom Thumb," and the oldest woman alive Joice Heth.  It's the kind of book where you'll find yourself reading passages to people out loud until you just press the book in their hands anyway.  Great for a kid who needs to do a biography project and the adult who's as curious as Barnum's audiences were.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Marian Librarian Reviews Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I have declared it Circus Week!

Why?  Because it is National Novel Writing Month and two of the biggest NaNo success stories happen to be about Circuses: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  (Take note, Nano'ers.  Circus books for all of us next year!)*

(*Don't actually do this.)

I'm going to be honest, every time I approach an "adult book" these days, especially a "bestseller," I feel trepidation.  I think it's because I've had some truly awful experiences with adult fiction and bestsellers (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Devil Wears Prada stand out for me.)  So, when I went into the Youth Services field I engrossed myself in YA and Juvenile literature, feeling like I was behind and could never read enough of it anyway (I still feel this way.)  My whole outlook on reading changed then.  I was actually enjoying things I read.  I'd found a home in YA lit.

A few months ago, I started to hear about The Night Circus.  First, I heard of it because it was a NaNo success story even before it was released, and as a NaNo'er I appreciate every one of us who take 50,000 desperately typed-out words and turn them into something amazing.

Then I started to hear about it from the YA community because it was going to be placed in YA sections, then graduated to adult but branded "has crossover appeal."

Interesting that this book seemed to beckon out to me just like the Night Circus itself does, with word of mouth and an image of circus tents in striking black and white.  I got on the hold list for it and was already number 257 in line at the library, but I cut ahead of everyone by spying a non-requestable Best-Seller copy on the shelf.

The Night Circus gave me everything I want to fall in love with in a book.  A beautiful setting and atmosphere, lovers who make your heart ache with them, mystery and intrigue that keeps you turning page after page, and, of course, a little magic.

It was a book that I devoured and wished I hadn't so that I could have savored it longer.  It's a world that I did not wish to shut the back cover on.

The story follows the life of the mysterious and fantastic Night Circus and the lives that are entwined in it.  I say the life of the circus, because it's the true main character that seems to live and breathe on its own, rather than just a setting.  The magic and splendor in this Circus isn't just sleight of hand, it's real.  Dreams conjured by dreamers for dreamers; two magicians locked in a high-stakes game.  A lot of fantasy demands a limit or price to magic.  These magicians do pay a price for their magic but anything they wish to make happen- living carousels, cloud-filled playgrounds, exotic labyrinths -they bring to life.  I understand "price of magic" philosophy but here, it was refreshing to see that any dream could take shape.

I know this review has been more like a love letter to this book, so I'll get down to the nitty-gritty briefly.  The narrative moves forward and backward in time from scene to scene, picking up threads of different characters at different parts of their lives.  This causes a build in tension but does, at one very brief point, added frustration because there were times where it cut to characters I didn't find as compelling when I desperately wanted to follow another storyline.  Sometimes I find books that use this frame tiresome because they use it as a thinly veiled device to hold off the climax.  However, this book was certainly not the worse offender.  One other gripe is a main character, Bailey, is meant to be an ordinary kid in an extrordinary world, but I think that point was driven too far because I never connected to him.

These are minor problems in any book, but are especially forgettable in such a fast read.  I have heard some complain about the lengthy descriptions in this book, but I frankly don't know what they're talking about.  The descriptions are brush strokes, touches that help you fill in the rest with your imagination.  The movie rights have already been sold and I know people are already a twitter about it.  I almost not, because I love the world Morgenstern helped me to see in my own imagination.

A big part of growing up is seeing through magic, realizing that magicians are just fancy liars with pulleys and mirrors.  The ciricus loses its luster, becomes a lie and illusion.  This jaded adult reader was glad to step into a world where the magic is as real and shiny as ever.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's Monday, What are you Reading?

This is my first time participating in Sheila @ Book Journey's Monday meme: What are you reading?  And mapped out my week as a reader.

Plans this week is to read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen in honor NaNoWriMo.  I bought this book years ago and didn't read it because something scared me off from it.  This is one of the first non-library books I've allowed myself to read in...years really.

Also, I'm going to finish the children's non-fiction book: "The Great and Only Barnum" by Candace Fleming and Ray Fenwick.

Obviously I have Circuses on the brain.

I'm listening to "Alice I have Been" by Melanie Benjamin, whom I've actually chatted with through #litchat and found to be lovely.  Nothing is wrong with the book but I have been having trouble turning on the CD player to listen to it, which is never a good sign.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bruce Campbell Week Part Three: Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way


I'm whispering because I don't want Bruce Campbell to hear this.

Especially since we're best friends now after he retweeted my previous blog entry.  (Allow me my delusions.)

I wish I had loved: Make Love!*  *the Bruce Campbell Way.

But I didn't.

It's all had such promise.  Bruce Campbell on the cover dressed as he was in that awesome Old Spice commercial (see below).  A comedy novel by the King of the B-list about a B-list actor trying to get off of the B-list.  I loved If Chins Could Kill.  I liked Man with the Screaming Brain.  I love Bruce Campbell. What could go wrong?

The thing about Make Love!* *the Bruce Campbell way is that while it is fictionalized, real people's names are used: Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Mike Nichols, Christopher Plummer.  Bruce Campbell is "himself" (one prays the real Bruce acts nothing like this).  I suppose the idea was that they're celebrities, so how do we really know if they're acting out of character right?

Well, we know they're acting out of character because no one on God's green earth talks are behaves the way that this book portrays.

I know that, as I read the book, I was supposed to shut off my brain and enjoy the zaniness.  I couldn't.  I knew too much that what I was reading was completely contrived and unfunny.  In fact, it made me cringe.  Have ever wanted to see Bruce Campbell -not a character, but the man himself- doing things so moronic that it made you embarrassed for him?  Me neither.

Someone on Amazon said it's like he wrote a fan-fic of himself and I have to agree.

I still love Bruce Campbell but when it comes to his fiction novels...his films and autobiography are very entertaining.  Leave this one lie.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bruce Campbell Week Part Two: Man with the Screaming Brain (Comic)

Today, we discuss the great Bruce Campbell as a comic book writer.

In 1986, Bruce Campbell was a man with a dream.

His dream was to make a corny, 1950s style science fiction flick.  And in 2005, that dream became a reality.  (Yes, it took 19 years.)  Man with the Screaming Brain was born.

The Man with the Screaming Brain is talked about a little in If Chins Could Kill, though I've never been entirely sure why this was the story that Campbell lobbied for for years.  Not that it's bad.  It's exactly what you're expecting from a campy scifi-picture show movie.  I just think it's an interesting insight on Bruce Campbell that this is the story that he felt called to share with the world.  My kind of guy.

He felt so called to share this story with the world that, in addition to the movie, there is a comic book version released by Dark Horse comics.

I read the comic book before I watched the movie.  Campbell says of the comic:
"I'm calling the comic a 'director's cut,' mainly because it doesn't cost you more to set the scene at the edge of a cool cliff, or at night like it does in the movies.  The comic is closer to what the original intent was - dark and noir-like."

The Plot: Campbell plays William Cole, who travels with his unsatisfied wife Jackie to Bulgaria to oversee some business interests there.  They meet former KGB-turned cab driver Yegor and when they run afoul of the murderess gypsy Tatoya, she kills all three of them.  Luckily, Bulgaria's friendly neighborhood mad scientists are there to place part of Yegor's brain in place of the damaged part of Cole's brain, and Jackie is placed in the body of a robot.  The two halves of the brain work together to get their revenge.

I'm a huge MST3K fan, so all I could think about as I read this story was of the movie The Atomic Brain, where there's a man with a dog brain, a woman with a cat brain, a girl with a dead brain (zombie), and an old woman's brain in a cat.  I like these mad scientists who don't believe in waste, no brains or usable body parts left behind.

Because of that, I feel the story accomplishes everything it set out to do; it feels just like a cheesy 1950s scifi movie.  The comic is a fun read, though I think you just have to pair it with a watching of the movie, because it's Bruce Campbell's delivery and facial expressions that really sell it, though the comic does have an awesome look to it.

I give it 4 misplaced-brains out of 5!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bruce Campbell Week! Part One: If Chins Could Kill

It's November, a time to look back on all our blessings to reflect on what we're thankful for.

This Mild-Manner Librarian is thankful for Bruce Campbell.

Bruce Campbell is the second man I ever loved.  The first was the Red Power Ranger, Jason, and, in hindsight, that was just lust.  The first time I looked at a boy and thought, "Hey, he isn't icky."

Then I started watching a leather-pants clad Bruce Campbell in "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." and there was a new man in my life.

Side by side comparison, there is not contest.

Unlike the Red Power Ranger, my love for Bruce Campbell endures to this day.

But what does this have to do with books, Librarian Blogger, you may ask?

Well, my friends, the mighty Bruce Campbell is not just a god among actors, he's also an auteur.  And I'm reviewing three of his works this week.

Now, I'm not a horror gal for the most part, so my exposure to Bruce Campbell had mainly been limited to Brisco, then Xena and Hercules, the sadly short-lived Jack of All Trades, then later his appearances in the Spiderman Movies and finally Burn Notice.  Evil Dead what now?

It took me a while to hear about Evil Dead, and then there was a long time that I just felt an overwhelming guilt as a Bruce Campbell fan for not having seen it.  Then, I came across a co-worker who loved Bruce Campbell as I did, and she loaned me his book: If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor.  I never returned this book. (Sorry Carrie. I also lost the book and bought another one, then found out that her copy was in the Take a Book, Leave a Book area at my work at the time, so the Bruce Campbell joy continues to be passed on!)

In, If Chins Could Kill, one of the highlights is the section on the making of Evil Dead.  How they did so much with so little, how Campbell would come home every morning dowsed in syrupy fake blood while church goers would stare at him, and, of course, detailed notes about "Shemping" a low budget movie.

If Chins Could Kill came out in 2001, so if you haven't read it I don't know what the hell you're waiting for.  Still, there could be unenlightened among us who have not read it just as someone who counts Bruce Campbell as her second love didn't watch Evil Dead until the late 2000s (shame face).  I suggest it for Bruce Campbell fans, diehard or otherwise, but also for the beginning film-maker.  You get to see the ingenuity that went into making a horror movie on no budget.  Also, you see how Hercules and Xena basically home-grew a film industry in New Zealand.  There's a lot to learn from his sections about almost being "The Phantom" and the desperate attempts to keep Brisco on the air, which included Rodeo visits.  It's a fun, delightful read.  Also, there are pictures.  Pictures of Bruce Campbell.

And, after reading all about the making of Evil Dead.  I got the courage to watch it, figuring that since I knew all the behind the scenes info I wouldn't be scared.  Finally, I could be a true Bruce Campbell fan!

I didn't sleep at all that night.

I give If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-movie Actor 5 chins out of five.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And now for something completely different: A Conversation about Princess Leia and Han Solo

It all starts with this picture.

Holly despairs that a girl feels a need to make Vader Pink to be comfortable being him.  I say that I think it's empowering, since all the girl characters aren't that great in Star Wars that she made Vader her own.  Then this conversation happened:

Holly: True, the female characters are sex slaves and a girl who loves a cocky guy who doesn't say he loves her back, even in the face of being frozen in carbonite.

Me: I know! If I were Leia and he pulled that whole "I love you"/ "I know" thing on me, I'd have yelled down at him: "You know what? Nevermind, buddy."  And Lando Calrissian would be all like, "Dude, that's cold," while he was being frozen in the carbonite.  Then Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and the Stormtroopers would all be snickering in their helmets.  It would have been glorious.

Holly: It would have been!  I mean, I sort of get the guy machismo, you're surrounded by enemies and you don't want to be a sniveling baby.

Me:  Yeah, but he's been the one initiating things the whole time and then the minute she sort of breaks down he's all like, "Sucka! I was just trying to have sex with you the whole time."

You know what a woman loves?  Being embarrassed in front of a room full of her enemies.  Screw you, Han Solo/Harrison Ford (because I know it was your ad lib).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Marian Librarian Reviews Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

So I was going to save this conversation for when I took a month or two to talk about Fairy Tales, but today is Halloween and I look like this:

And now this song is stuck in my head:

So we're talking about Red Riding Hood today.

In her collection of short stories, Cloaked in Red, Vivian Vande Velde talks about how Red Riding Hood is a truly bizarre little story about a girl named after clothing going into wolf-infested woods at her mother's behest, talks to a wolf, gives him all the information about where she's going, and then is saved by a deus ex machina-like woodsman.  She wonders why we are fascinated a story with unmemorable characters, forgettable setting, terrible plot, and indeterminable themes.  Then she writes eight short stories surrounding the tale.

Of course, I wish that she might have ended her brilliant introduction with why she was so drawn to such a "terrible" story to write it 8 times over.

I have to say, in previous years I would have never thought of Red Riding Hood as a viable costume because she's really a terrible heroine who sort of blunders head first into danger and has to be rescued.

Then I read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.

This is a modern-day, twisted fairy tale.  A wolf attacks a grandmother and the two little girls she's raising.  The eldest defends the younger sister and loses an eye in the attack.  Afterwards they commit their lives to fighting wolves (who are more like we would consider werewolves).

What follows is a really wonderful story of two sisters, one driven to the point of fanaticism (Scarlet), the other desperate to fulfill her life's debt to her older sister (Rosie), even if it costs all of her wants and dreams.

These girls aren't Buffy; they have no superpowers.  In one review they said these heroines were "real enough to bleed."  I definitely agree.  They're vulnerable yet strong and came out of fights worse for wear.  They're excellent reimaginings of Red Riding Hood, who was ultimately just a girl who talked at length to a stranger.

As much as I loved the March Sisters as characters, the book has flaws.  The plot "twists" can be seen miles away, the monsters are just that: Monsters.  Their motivation?  They're awful monsters.  I give it some leeway on this because the main character's are so compelling and fairy tales tend to go for the black and white.  I just felt these issues were keeping this book from crossing from good to great.  Still, we need more strong heroines in all literature and this book gives us two wearing that fantastic red cape.

This book came into some controversy because of a passage where Scarlet, a victim herself, narrates about how the pretty girls she's watching to see they won't be attacked by wolves are inviting trouble without even knowing it.  Some took that as the same as blaming a rape victim, and because of that thought it was removed from a list of 100 YA books for Young Feminists.  Mind you, there is no rape in this book at all.  Just a victim narrating about how she perceives a group of girls as making themselves victims.

Here is an example of taking what a character says to be what the author is saying.  Scarlet is a victim dealing with trauma, of course she's projecting.  It's interesting because characters, male and female, have been thinking terrible things ever since pen was put to page, yet Scarlett is punished because her thoughts aren't feminist enough.  I bet my thoughts aren't feminist enough either, Scarlett, but we do try don't we?

So now I'm dressed up like Red Riding Hood trying to articulate why she endures.

I think she's stuck around for the same reason that 50% of Lifetime movies are about stalkers and we're obsessed with true crime stories.  Red Riding Hood is a victim, the wolf is a serial killer, and the woodsman saved her at the last second.  Or maybe there's something to the imagery of a girl in red standing out in a lush forest of green, being watched from the shadows.

But even better is Pearce's Red, or Reds in this case, Scarlet and Rosie, who are ready to bite back.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comic-Reading Librarian: The Long Halloween

There are a couple schools of thought about comics and graphic novels at the library.

Snobby Librarian: Doesn't get it. Why are you reading that trash and why do I have to appeal to the lowest common denominator and have them on my shelves?

Ambivalent Librarian: I've read/heard of Persepolis and Invention of Hugo Cabret, but do you see how the women are portrayed in this manga crap?

Ostracized Librarian: Gets talked about after spending her break reading those comic books.  Aren't those for 12 year old boys?

So I think maybe you can guess that I'm an Ostracized Librarian.  I'm also going to make a sweeping generalization and say that most people who work in libraries who aren't against comic books work in Youth Services.  Youth Services people want kids to come to the library and read ANYTHING, so we don't turn up our nose at it if there are pictures.  Some of us know that comics are actually good, and not all men in tights lifting cars over their heads.

So every Halloween I read The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and then get snickered at by the other librarians behind my back.

Let me just go on record here as saying that I am a Two-Face girl, through and through.  He's always been my favorite in the Rogues gallery, probably because I love a man in a good double-breasted suit.  Also, I adore his story.  He and Batman are two-sides of the same coin (intended imagery!).  Both obsessed with justice, but working towards it from opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil.  Also, of all the rogues he's most conflicted about his life of crime.  Not a lot of remorse coming from Joker or Poison Ivy, but Harvey Dent is still in there, and we can see him.  So that makes me an unapologetic fan-girl of this story.

The premise is that murders are being committed on every holiday by a killer who has it out for the Mob Scene in Gotham.  Rogues Gallery favorites all make appearances, cementing themselves as super-villains instead of thugs, and the origin of Two-Face plays out.  I really enjoy how his origin wasn't completely rushed and botched like it was in The Dark Knight movie.  (Post complaints below)

If you haven't read it, but you like Batman, go read it.  What's great is that someone who has long been left behind by convoluted DC continuity (which the re-launch did not fix, no matter what they say) can still read and enjoy this story if they know anything about Batman.  It's meant to be a continuation of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, but I actually don't love that story and think you can do just fine skipping it.

Loeb is a divisive figure in comics.  This book, and Superman for all Seasons are critically acclaimed.  His works on the Ultimates and Ultimatum, definitely a sore spot for fans.  I admit that while I loved this story and to a slightly lesser extent its sequel, Dark Victory, the sort of re-hash of this style he does in "Hush" didn't do it for me.

Also, I don't love the boxy art of Tim Sale in this book, but I got over it because I was engrossed in the Noir murder mystery with the tuxedo wearing, mafia-fighting Batman I love.

If you love Batman or Two-Face, pick it up.  What's more Halloween than reading a book about lunatics in costume and murder-most foul?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

H is for Halloween: Favorite Halloween Storytime books

Halloween Week!!!

I'm so excited.  This is just the week for a Creepy Susie like myself.  Really, it feels like every one of my programs could be Halloween related, but it's exciting when I have an excuse to do more.

You know, sometimes holiday books are just terrible, trying to shoe-horn in too much at a time.  I find Halloween books suffer the least.

These are my Favorite Halloween Storytime books, which could be mixed and matched with some of my Monster Storytime books.

Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi, Ill. by Gris Grimly

I adore everything Crimi does, and the illustrations of Grimly.  This is actually the only book that mentions the word Halloween.  Bella Lagrossi is the grossest ghoul on the block.  She's neighbors with Boris Kleanioff, who is an obsessed grime-fighter.  They, of course, hate each other.
This book is about as long as I ever go for a Preschool Storytime, but it's just so often.  I love the names (which will get a laugh from parents) and the illustrations.

Three Little Ghosties by Pippa Goodhart, Ill by. AnnaLaura Cantone

Three Little Ghosties, sitting on posties, eating burnt toasties and telling big boasties!
Love this story.  Love the repetition, the sound, and of course, plenty of opportunities to yell "BOO!" works great at a storytime.  Never actually mentions Halloween, so could be done all year round in theory.

The Curious Demise of a Contrary Cat by Lynne Berry and Luke LaMarca

A story about a cat who refuses to help with the witch's dinner party.  Black and white illustrations, which I adore but I think get mixed results from kids.  The repetition of this book, however, is so wonderful that the kids can help you read half of it.  Also doesn't have Halloween mentioned specifically, so you could use it for a cat Storytime.

Honorable Mentions:

Alpha Oops: H is for Halloween by Alethea Kontis and Bob Kolar

A great, funny little Halloween Alphabet book.  Only trouble, I find it a little difficult to present books like these with a lot of sound bubbles.

Sipping Spiders through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly Dipucchio, Ill. by Gris Grimly

Another beautifully illustrated Grimly book on here?  Shocking.  I love songs in a storytime, so some of these would be good to use.  However, many are a little two complicated to teach a preschool.

There you go!  My favorite Halloween stories for kids.  Any you would add to the list?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

All Hallow's Read: Zombie Book Round-Up

There are about 600 billion Zombie books out there.  I believe that's an exact figure.  I read a lot of them, but the universe keeps throwing more and more out there.  Some say it's because we are a consumer society and zombies are the ultimate consumers, a morality tale of our fate as a people.  Some say that the zombie hoard is unstoppable and inescapable terror.  Others just think zombies are pretty cool.

Here's a list of my favorite and not-so-favorite Zombie Reads:

Love it:

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne

I've already discussed this comedy were self-aware zombies live afterlives of outcasts and attend support groups here.

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Don't read it when you're eating pasta for dinner, like I did.

Zombies for Kids and Teens:

Zombies vs Unicorns by Various Authors, Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

This book is a who's who of the greatest YA authors out there.  Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson is my favorite zombie story in it.

Zombie Chasers by John Kloepfer

Funny little zombie story with great-gross out illustrations and a zombie dog!

Leave it:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith

Jane Austin + Zombies.  Awesome, right?  Surprisingly terribly dull.  A one-note joke that goes to bathroom humor once it know it goes stale.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Two people in love held apart more by their own inaction and self-absorption than anything.  Romeo and Juliet they are not.  Zombies are a backdrop to teen angst, and in the end I was rooting for the zombies.

That's a little cruel.  I was absorbed by this book until I reached the end, and then it left me sour grapes.

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

Reads like a technical manual, which is really the only joke.  Isn't it funny that this book is so serious and is about zombies?  It isn't.  I couldn't finish it.

Recommended to me but haven't checked out:

Feed by Mira Grant

Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenemore

Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore

So what are your feelings?  Any of the recommended reads I should avoid or add?  Any of my picks you disagree with?  Are you sick of zombies?

Just remember, Zombie's Were People too.

Friday, October 21, 2011

All Hallow's Read: A Tribute to Frankenstein

Yesterday I got my, "Heroine of Literature" Mary Shelley shirt from, and it got me thinking about my difficult relationship relationship with her crowning work.

I first read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley when I was in middle school and I felt it was cool to read harder books than my peers were reading.  This did not result in me being cool, but it did result in my reading a lot of classics as a young person that I would not have the patience for today, all because I stubbornly wanted to prove I could.

Frankenstein was a real slog for me then.  The Victorian language and difficult to like protagonist (because Victor Frankenstein is the protagonist) were hard for me to swallow, but I kept on because I stubbornly refuse to be defeated by a book.  (I've had mixed results with this way of thinking.)

(I adore the ultra-cheesy cover of the copy I read as a kid. It also had a "2 for $1" sticker on it)

I was fairly miserable reading Frankenstein.  Victor Frankenstein gets consumed by the idea of making his creation, taking parts from corpses of animals and human, which makes it unnaturally-sized.  I don't know why it takes the moment that he's given life to the thing for him to realize it is not a beautiful thing, but ugly and terrible, but it does.  So begins a recurring theme in the book.  Victor gets himself in over his head, shirks his responsibility, and lies in bed sick.  I think Victor Frankenstein is probably one of the most sickly characters in literature.  After every tense moment in the book, the bastard ends up in a sickbed having people look after him, comforting him.  He's a deadbeat dad, whiny, premadonna.

The Creature himself makes the move from compassionate character to serial killer in the book as well.  He is smart, and articulate.  He's not the shuffling, mindless corpse that we have come to see him in the media today.  He's cold, calculating, fast, and strong.  He shares a lot in common with the Immortals we see in literature today, vampires and the like, but he is not beautiful like they are.

It was such a challenging read to watch two men consumed.  Victor makes missteps constantly.  The Creature makes terrible choices and is forced into them as well.  When Dr. Frankenstein makes his Creature a bride on the promise that they will go away forever and leave him alone, then tears it apart when he sees how happy his creation is about getting a companion, I about lost it.  What the hell, Victor?  Can't a guy have a lady?

So like I said, I found reading the thing miserable.  It was hard for me to get through both because it was challenging my reading skills and because it is such a dark tale.  When it was finished, however, I was so happy I'd read it.  Not because it's a happy ending because obviously that was never in the cards, but because I was happy that such a book existed in this world and that Mary Shelley brought it to us.

Mary Shelley hung out with the rock stars of the Victorian literary scene: Byron and Percy Byshe Shelley, among others.  There was a whole lot of free love going on in that group, though she loved only her husband.  Like many Victorians she'd seen a lot of death, lost several children, and was obsessed with it as the Victorians were.  She made a brilliant tortured immortal, far more sympathetic than whiny Louis, callous Lestat, directionless Dracula, or, dare I even mention Sparkly Edward.  I even like those guys (well, not Louis or Edward) but I don't love them the way I love Frankenstein's monster.  (Yeah, I'm that girl who will correct you.  He never takes his creators name.)

Say what you will about Kenneth Branaugh's critically panned bit of opulence, Frankenstein.  Branaugh has always put the text in the forefront, and I think he was trying to tear down our notions of a mindless, stumbling corpse.  Frankenstein was a well-spoken, superhuman out for vengeance.  In this day and age, he'd have a comic book.

Classics are one of those things that people know they should read but don't actually do.  I understand, I closed the books on classics after college.  But read Frankenstein. Prepare yourself some mega-angst and a main character who faints as much as a Victorian lady without the excuse of a corset blocking his airflow, but read it anyway.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

M is for Monster: My favorite Monstrous Storytime Books

It's a wonderful thing to me that Monsters are so en vogue in picture books.  Monster Storytime allows for:

1. A lot of ROARING, STOMPING, and other excellent mischief making.
2. Awesome monster-related crafting
3. Some of the best Children's books out there.

Nearly all of my colleagues have some Farm Animal Storytime or another, yet the monster books go nearly untouched in any month other than October.  But why give Monster books a season?  Where the Wild Things Are is not a Halloween book.  There's a Monster at the End of this Book is a book about Grover from Sesame Street, a program that has shown us that monsters are acceptable for every day consumption by children (or that monsters might consume children every day, whichever you like.)

I have so many Monster Books I love, so I think I'll do this over several posts, 3 books a post.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan

This one is sort of an Honorable Mention.  Have you ever read a Children's book as an adult and laughed out loud?  It's awesome when it happens, and this book had me laughing so much I struggled to finish reading it to my niece.  Two children are whining and monsters come to eat them.  Unfortunately, the monster's cannot decide how to prepare their whiny children.  They try to put them in a salad, a sandwich, a burger, etc.  One of the lines that had me in stitches was when they wanted to make a nice Whiny Child Vindaloo, but "sometimes it's hard to decide if you want Indian Food or not."
Now, obviously jokes like that are funnier to adults, and I don't mind "adult" humor in children's books because kids are smarter than we sometimes give them credit.  The only problem with this book is that it sways too much for the adults in the room because of the length and the illustrations.  I don't mind a sort of messy, black and white sketchy style, but with a book of this length a child will.  One of those books that's just "almost" there.  Check it out even with the flaws.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Mo Willems knows monsters and kids.  The man worked on Sesame Street!  The great thing about a lot of his books is that they are wonderful to read but especially great to have read to you.  They lend themselves to performance.  This books is no exception with the monologue Sam has in the middle, which I often try to do quickly and in one breath, the way I figure a child would.  It's also a pretty good story for a "Friendship" storytime, if you are so inclined.

There Was an Old Monster by Rebecca, Adrian, and Ed Emberley

The Emberley's seem to be as fond of monsters as I am since it is time and again the subject of their books.  I could put many on here: Glad Monster, Sad Monster, Go Away Big Green Monster, If You're a Monster and You Know it, etc.  The style of these books is so bold with bright colors contrasted against black that they are always a Storytime favorite, but this one has the line "Ants in his pants" and allows wiggling and "scritchy-scratching", so it's the clear winner.

To be Continued...Mwhahaha.

Okay, perhaps maniacal laughter isn't necessary in a Children's book discussion.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Best Monster Storytime Songs for Little Monsters

There are so many brilliant monster books for preschoolers out there.

In my library I've, at times, come across an anti-Halloween sentiment in parents but Monsters tend to squeak by.  The other great thing about Monster storytime is you have plenty of opportunities to yell "RAWR" which is both entertaining for the kids and annoying to the desk staff.

I've complied my favorite Monster-themed songs, great for Little Monsters.

If You're a Monster and You Know it

Tune: " If you're happy and you know it"

If you're a monster and you know it shake your horns
If you're a monster and you know it shake your horns.
If you're a monster and you know it then your growl will surely show it. RAWR! 
If you're a monster and you know it shake your horns.

Continue with: your claws
...gnash your teeth
...stomp your feet
...give a roar

(There is an Ed and Rebecca Emberley book that is similar to this, though I prefer just to sing it this way.)

5 Little Monsters 

5 little monsters under my bed
1 crawled out from my bed spread
Mama came in then she said!
"No more monsters underneath the bed"

Continue counting down until there are:

"Now there are no more monsters underneath the bed So Go to Sleep!"

Horns and Fangs 

Tune: "Head and Shoulders"

Horns and fangs,
knees and claws,
knees and claws.
Horns and fangs,
knees and claws.
Eyes and ears and tail and paws.

(Faster and Faster!)

Five Little Monsters (Fingerplay)

This little monster has a big red nose
This little monster has purple toes.
This little monster plays all night.
This little monster is such a fright.
And this little monster goes:
"I'm not scary, I'm just silly me."

(Hold up hand and point to each finger)

Monster Pokey

Tune: Hokey Pokey

You Put your right paw in, 
you put your right paw out, 
you put your right paw in and you shake it all about.  
You do the Monster Pokey and you turn yourself around.  
That’s what it’s all about.  
Monster Pokey! Rawr!
Verses: Left paw, Right Claw, Left Claw, tail, horns, teeth, whole Monster self.

(Yes, another Hokey Pokey take off.  So sue me, It's what it's all about!)

Next: My favorite Preschool Monster Books

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All Hallows Read: Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne

Happy All Hallow's Read!

It's a graveyard smash as I review monster books and have monster Storytime tips all month long.

I don't really know how it's much different from the rest of the year because I read monster books then as well.

I've got to get cracking because I've already lost a chunk of the month after I fell off the side of the world post Pirate and Banned Books Week.  I won't be posting everyday usually, but you can more look for my posts Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  Now that I've said that schedule aloud, I'll either totally fail to stick with it or be shamed into doing it.  We'll see.

I figured I'd start with reposting the video book review I did to get on the cast of SpineBreakers, the podcast I contribute to on  This is the video that convinced me that I would never do another video. I'm sure that is inspiring you to press that play button, but I don't actually hate the video that much (except for that stumble I have at the end and the sound of my own voice).  I just realized that I am not a film maker, even when the film is just pictures with voice over.

But the good thing is this video did help me get on SpineBreakers and was noticed by the author himself, who've I've spoken to a few times online and find to be a pretty cool guy.  By posting this again, he might think I'm stalking him.  I'll just assure his lawyer here that I'm just lauding his book again because I think it's one of the best zombie reads out there, which I think is actually pretty difficult to achieve since I've read a few dogs.  Even if you don't check out the video review, check out the book this October.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Banned Books Week Day 8: Banned Books Save

Last day of Banned Books week!

I love Banned Books Week, and I'm so grateful for all the people who support Banned Books this week and all year round.  I just wanted to end it with some parting thoughts.

This year has been a big one for YA books.  8 of the 10 most frequently banned books in 2010 could be considered Young Adult literature.  The previously mentioned Meghan Cox Gurdon article has created a great deal of controversy by basically vilifying the whole genre.  Then there was the 100 Young Adult Novels for the Feminist Reader list put out by Bitch Magazine that started to pull titles, all but supporting their censorship.  (A roundup of the full controversy can be found here.)

It's also been a hard few years for teens, not as though the teen years aren't always hard.  There have been a shocking number of suicides brought on my bullying and cyberbullying incidents; one of the most high profile ones occurred in my own St. Louis where the bully was actually the mother of a rival student.

Most disturbing about banned books is that it seems that time and again we are taking books away from kids that they most need.  I've mentioned The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier a couple of times this week for a  reason.  I read it last year for Banned Books week and was blown away.  It's such a poignant statement about mob mentality and school bullying.  I can see why educators wanted to have their students read this book in a school setting, so they can understand that bullying isn't new, that they're not alone, and it's always senseless.  But, because of a few cuss words, some teen boys ogling women, and a masturbation scene, it has been banned time and time again.  Is it more important to protect our teens from knowledge of sexism, cussing, and masturbation than it is to let them see the pointlessness of bullying and that no matter how bad it gets, there's always a way out?

When the #YASaves campaign really hit Twitter in earnest, there was story after story of teens who weren't damaged by books, but inspired and helped by books.  A lot of those books were some of the "Dark" YA literature that Gurdon talks about.  A lot of them are banned books.

What I urge people to remember after this Banned Books week is "I don't want my child to read this" does not equal "no child should read this."  A ban withholds a book from a whole population of people, and that book just might have been the book a child or teen needed to save them.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books Week Day 7: These Books Were Born this Way

Take a look at this Chart from the ALA:

The 7th most common reason a book is challenged by the ALA is because it includes Homosexuality.  Not necessarily that it contains explicit homosexual sex, but just that the idea of homosexuality exists in the story.  The children's book And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson has made the top Ten Most Challenged books list from 2006-2010, and for 4 of those 5 years, it was the #1 most banned book in the country (It slipped to #2 in 2009).  Keep in mind that this book is banned for homosexuality and the word "homosexual" doesn't occur in it.  

I was cavalier about books that included the occult in this blog post and it's actually more often a reason books are challenged, so why get up in arms about this?  After all, isn't homosexuality just another issue where some of us are just never going to see eye to eye?

Here's the difference.  Animals don't talk.  Broomsticks don't fly.  Vampires, sparkly or otherwise, do not exist.  Also, Banning Harry Potter and Twilight hasn't done much at all to stem their popularity, and I challenge you to find a library with picture books that don't have animals talking.

When someone bans a book that just even mentions the idea of homosexuality, they are trying to banish the idea that homosexuality even exists in this world.

While the fantasy, vampire, magical genres are going well and good in publishing, books that include homosexual characters all ready have an uphill climb.  People who ban books have failed to stem the popularity of Harry Potter, but banning a book with homosexuality in it can doom the book to obscurity or take the book out of the hands of someone who needs it most.

Someone who needs to know that they are not alone.

Someone who is trying to make sense of themselves in a world that is constantly telling them they are wrong just for being born who they are.

Support these books.  Put them in the hands of kids, teens, and adults who need them.  Help give a voice to a group of people who have been too long treated like they were second-class citizens and told that their very existence is wrong.