Category Archives: kid stuff

suffering from abandonment issues

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare 1993- English ed. (205 pgs/read 58)

A low-level clerk in a overly bureaucratic nation sorts and analyses the citizens’ dreams. Interesting premise, but a bit too overly-veiled and metaphorical for me.

Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey 2008 (183 pgs/read 41)

A ruler’s personal chef, barber, and portrait painter are imprisoned during a political coup. It never really took off.

The Swimmer by Zsuzsu Bank 2005-English ed. (278 pgs/read 94)
A spacious, introspective novel set in 1950s Hungary. Kata and her younger brother Isti find their lives unalterably changed when their mother abandons the family with no notice. Their father promptly sells the family home and leads them into a rootless existence, traveling from distant relative to distant relative. This is one of those books I’d love to return to. But after chipping away at it for six months, I had to let it go.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer 1961 (255 pgs/read 55)

I thought I’d read this as a child, but it didn’t  seem in the least familiar. And worse, it wasn’t anywhere as compelling as the childhood books I did love.

The River Wife by Jonis Agee 2007 (393 pgs/read 142)

A young pregnant bride, whose husband is often absent on mysterious business, fills her empty nights reading the journals of her husband’s Missouri ancestors.  Fairly interesting at first, especially the woman’s survival after an earthquake leaves her trapped in the family cabin as the river rises nearby. But I lost interest about the point where her baby gets eaten by wild dogs & she suddenly starts up an affair with John James Audubon.

The Outlander by Gil Adamson 2008 (389 pgs/read 20)

On the run, a woman tries to elude her in-laws who blame her for her husband’s murder. Failed to grab me.


oh my darling clementine

Clementine’s Letter   by Sara Pennypacker, with pictures by Martha Frazee 2008 (150 pgs)

Clementine is back for her third high-energy, low-attention-span adventure. She’s just getting the hang of third grade and all its rules when her teacher announces he may be leaving for Egypt. He’s nominated for a study abroad program, and all the students are asked to write letters saying why their teacher should be picked. So Clementine write a doozy. And then she sits back and hopes her anti-nomination letter will convince the judges not to send her teacher away. Meanwhile, she’s stuck with a new teacher whose rules she just can’t understand. Bring on the hijinks.

do you believe in magic

The Magician’s Nephew  by C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia #1) c.1955 (202 pgs)

 What does this make, re-read number 28? At least. I devoured the Narnia books repeatedly as a kid and still love to pick them up again every once in a while. The adventures are always fun, and grounded enough that you could imagine yourself in them. The religious overtones (which I don’t remember noticing as a kid) are light and never overpower the story itself. This volume (although written after the rest) is where it all began- with an attic room, an evil uncle, and a pair of magical rings.

what would buddha do?

Twenty Jataka Tales  retold by Noor Inayat Khan, illustrations by H. Willebeek Le Mair, orig pub 1939 (152 pgs)

A collection of short Aesop-esque legends of the former incarnations of the Buddha that relates tales of wisdom and kindness. Here he’s a lion, kindly correcting a panicking hare who thinks the world is ending. There he’s an stag convincing the king through his willingness to sacrifice himself for any of his fellow creature that all animals are worthy of respect. The tales are simple and fun & the morals subtle enough to compliment and not overpower the sweet nature of the book.

you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here

Library books that have been living at my house for far too long:

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen 2007 (394 pgs/read 27)

During the influenza pandemic of 1918, some small towns quarantined themselves to avoid infection. The novel is set in one such town. Fearing that influence will spell the end of their progressive timber company cooperative, the townsfolk vote to close their borders. Then the guards are forced to shoot a soldier seeking access. Definitely one for the “come back to it” list.

Open Me by Sunshine O’Donnell 2007 (230 pgs/read 24)

Didja know: throughout history, in many different cultures, people have hired professional mourners to “perform” at funerals. Mem is one such, trained from childhood in the heriditary art. Interesting concept, but a bit too much “cultish child abuse as vocational training” for me.

The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda by Sonia Rivera-Valdes 2000/2001 US (158 pgs/read 102)

Strangers confide their darkest secrets in a student’s sociology interviews. A bit like Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies by way of Anais Nin, with a Cuban twist.

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme by Chris Roberts 2005 (202 pgs/read 90ish)

A bit of a travel guide around London via nursery rhymes, and their historical basis. Somewhat interesting, but not terribly scholarly and overly slang-ladden.

the books less traveled

Books I didn’t finish:

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story  by Leonie Swann 2006 (341/read 30)

Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Sheep. Solving crime. When they find their farmer skewered by a spade, the sheep resolve to solve his murder. Strangely fun and funny, with comical misunderstandings resulting from sheep vs human thinking.

The Emerald City of Oz   by Frank L. Baum orig. 1910, read 93 ed- wonderfully illustrated by John R. Neill(300/read 80ish)

While visiting family, I figured I’d revisit my childhood as well. I thought I’d read all the Oz books, but I didn’t recall this one. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em come to live in Oz as the Nome King is plotting to invade. Didn’t read far enough to get to the action, it was mostly set up but I was impressed with the quality of writing. I’d forgotten how rich and challenging Baum’s writing was. He didn’t condescend or dumb it down, he wrote genuinely interesting stories with vivid vocabulary.

Einstein’s Monsters  by Martin Amis 1987 (149/read 31)

Read two stories: In “Time Disease” everyone cowers under a nuclear ravaged sky. Vitality is a fatal disease and the only protection is inactivity. In The Immortals, a man reminisces about witnessing the dawn of life and mourns the end of humanity. He watches sadly as the last few survivors labor under the delusion that they are immortal. And he shrugs off his delusion that he is mortal.

Right Livelihoods  by Rick Moody 2007 (223/read 72)

Of the three novellas, I read the second and a bit of the third. In “K & K” a woman is stressing by the increasingly threatening notes left in the office suggestion box. When half of New York is leveled in “The Albertine Notes,” the survivors’ drug of choice is albertine which makes you relive memories with crystaline clarity. The only catch is you can’t choose the memory.

The Apocalypse Reader  edited by Justin Taylor 2007 (318/read 250ish)

A bunch of great short stories. Authors I’d like to read more from: Stacey Levine, Jared Hohl, Lucy Corin, Allison Whittenberg, Kelly Link, Steve Aylett, Colette Phair, Terese Svoboda, Theodora Goss, and Joyce Carol Oates.

My favorite was the hilarious “These zombies are not a metaphor” by Jeff Goldberg, where a man tries in vain to convince his imbecilic roommates that the zombies outside their door is NOT a metaphor, but are in fact literally zombies.

always look on the dark side of life

It’s “revisit your childhood” month at my friendly neighborhood book club. Or at least that’s how I see it. Assignment: read a Roald Dahl book, or twelve. They’re so little (and quick, fun reads) that it’d be easy to inhale a handful in a single afternoon. 

I re-re-read   The Twits  (76 pgs) and my all-time favorite kids book,  The BFG  (207 pgs). The Twits are just so evil. It’s fun to watch them torture each other, and even more fun to watch them get a dose of poetic justice. I must have read  The BFG  50 times growing up; I never got tired of it. The dream-catching and the dream-mixing scenes are my favorites. And I love way the BFG larbles ganguage.