Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Barbarism in this Beauty

Buntings and bourbon fly through Buenos Aires and small town New York. A teenager looks for romance in a Chinese restaurant/brothel, an invalid heiress elopes with her swim instructor, and a majorette catches herself on fire. These stories have alighted in Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds.

In the title story, a female journalist must evacuate with a team of male reporters during World War II. She is nicknamed “l’ ortolan” for the delicacy diners devour while veiling their faces with a napkin. She herself proves to be a dish when she and her colleagues are captured by a sadistic German.

When you’ve finished these stories, you’ll want to turn to Groff’s first book – The Monsters of Templeton. Truly epic in heft and scope, Monsters is a story of origin. One woman researches the town lore to discover her father’s identity. In doing so, she unravels a complicated family tree with chapters giving voice to minor characters from her past.

Mythical Realism. I don’t know if this is a thing, but Lauren Groff should be the poster child. Her work contains the same unsettling plot twists you’ve come to expect from stories of metamorphosis while her prose may prove as timeless as Sisyphus’ task.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Banzai Akita

Lately I’ve been running hills. I was feeling pretty good about my endurance until I read this book about a man who also runs. Up mountains. To kill bears.

Morie Sawataishi, the subject of Dog Man by Martha Sherrill, engages in these activities to train his prize winning Akitas. Although the book describes Morie’s quest to breed the ultimate Akita, this is no Best in Show. Through chapters named for the dogs he raised over a lifetime from No Name to Shiro, we read about the venture from both Morie and his family’s perspective.

Despite the money to be made selling dogs – first to the American servicemen and then to avid Akita fans - Morie refuses to take money for a dog, preferring to give them away. This causes some raised eyebrows (and voices) in his household, since his wife Kitako, a society girl turned mountain mama, remembers the lean times. Little rice, little meat, and little heat was to be found in their remote village in post-war Japan. Despite the deprivation, the dogs never went hungry.

Later in the book we hear from Morie’s children – a vet, a Vidal Sassoon hair stylist – about Morie’s enthusiasm for all things Akita. And his reticence when it came to his own children.

This is a book about a man who loves dogs. What he loves most about them isn’t their physical appearance or their promise of riches. And he most certainly doesn’t teach them tricks. What he really strives for is a dog with kisho. Funnily enough, it’s this kisho, or life force, that Morie himself embodies in these pages.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Some rely on Harlequin romances. Some on cat mysteries. Still others on Stephanie Myers. My guilty pleasure? Juvenile fiction.

Recently I dusted off some old favorites by Lois Lowry, Ellen Raskin, and Cynthia Voigt. Somewhat disenchanted with the last, I decided to see what young readers today have to pick from. Luckily, I've been following just the blog to help me choose.

First on the cart - Cassie was Here by Caroline Hickey. In this one, eleven-year-old Bree sways between a friend who’s too childish and one who's too mature. I found myself shifting allegiances, also. First, I was rooting for cool Cassie but then found myself feeling sad at the demise of Bree's (ahem) imaginary pal.

Next in line - My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. Lucy, a wannabe make-up artist, tries to save her family’s pharmacy by going green. I liked this one as well but found the beauty tips at the beginning of each chapter a little silly. But then again, I'm not exactly the target reader.

Shhhh. Don't tell.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte

I’ve broken every rule in this book. I’d say more, but I’ve got some Power Points to revise.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

“not all beer and skittles”

So remarked Ezra Jack Keats after winning the Caldecott Medal for The Snowy Day. His quote reflects the controversy his books sparked for being done by a white illustrator featuring multicultural characters. Although his character Peter was inspired by a picture of a little boy he saw in a copy of Life, Keats drew from his own life - he grew up in a Brooklyn tenement during the Depression - to create Peter’s world.

All this comes from Keats’s Neighborhood, a collection of 10 stories compiled on the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Snowy Day. The treasury also includes a short biography of Keats and remembrances of his life and work from other children’s illustrators including Eric Carle and Reynold Ruffins.

My favorite story of the collection, apart from The Snowy Day, is A Letter to Amy. In this story, Peter’s having a birthday party. He decides to invite a girl to the party and writes his friend Amy a special invitation. On his way to the mailbox, a storm whips the envelope from his hand. Amy finds it, but before she can pick it up, Peter snatches it so he can mail it according to plan. The party day arrives and we wait to see if Amy will indeed show up. Waiting isn’t hard, since it gives us time to take in the details of the party hats, curtains, and Peter’s tie.

My daughter’s favorite stories in the collection include Peter’s Chair and Jennie’s Hat. In her words, “what I like about them is I like the story.” But what I like about them is the illustrations. Keats’s technique of marbeling and cutting paper for collage makes his pictures vibrantly pop off the page. From hodgepodged hats of valentines and eggs to weathered circulars peeling off the bricks outside the Chinese laundry “How Soon,” Keats can set the scene.