28 March 2008

What I am Reading--Dusssie

Is mythology making a comeback? First there was the outstanding The Night Tourist, which revisited Oprheus and Eurydice. Recent releases have given us Pandora Gets Jealous by Carolyn Hennessey (it looks to be the start of a series of "Mythic Mis-Adventures") and Medusa Jones by Ross Collins. Not to mention the already popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. And here is Dusssie, the story of Dussie (short for Medusa) Gorgon who, at the onset of puberty, discovers that she is only half-human. The other half of her is gorgon. Now with a head full of snakes (the "bad hair day" jokes are plentiful) Dussie tries to come to grips with the changes and choices ahead of her. Turning her would-be beau, named "Troy" no less, into stone doesn't help matters much.

Author Nancy Springer has revisited classic tales before, with her Tales of Rowan Hood series (Robin Hood) and the Enola Holmes Mysteries (Sherlock Holmes.) So she is in a strong position to give ancient mythology a modern spin. Evidently the immortals are with us still (of course--they are immortal) and the majority of them live in New York City, where anyone can blend in. (Considering that The Night Tourist is also set in NYC, perhaps it is conceivable to establish a time-line between the two books?) That being said, this was not a strong story, entertaining though it was at times. Dussie's voice is clear and well-defined--she is every thirteen year old girl, despite the fact that she can telepathically communicate with the 27 snakes writhing on her head. But there are too many pieces that are laid before the reader and then hastily tied up: the truth about Dussie's father; Troy's experience while he is in his state of stone; Dussie's anger at her mother; Dussie's eventual solution to the head full of snakes (which is much more proactive than her mother's--forever wearing a turban.) The book started so well, and then it kind of fizzled. And the over-riding message that beauty is only skin deep is alternately laid on thick and then lost and then tossed in front of the reader again as Dussie wavers between petulance and wisdom.

While not quite a fractured fairy-tale, I'm not sure how to categorize Dusssie. Someone needs to come up with a similar term for this new breed of revisited myths. "Modified mythology"?

26 March 2008

Reviewing Picture Books

I came across this fascinating article about reviewing picture books in the Web Extras section of the Horn Book Guide website. As a reviewer of picture books myself, I was interested in author Karla Kuskin's observations about the difficulty involved in writing a lengthy, intelligent critique of a book which is often shorter than the review itself. I was also impressed with her impassioned defense of the picture book as art, an opinion I hold as well.

The role of the Book Reviewer has been on the wane for awhile now, with high-profile periodicals choosing to do away with review sections. And the influence of the blogosphere (to which I of course happily contribute) cannot be underestimated. If everyone is a critic, many of them are choosing to put their opinion on-line for all the world to see. And let's face it, not everyone wants to read a wordy, high-falootin break down of Nobunny is Perfect. They just want to know if their three year old will want to read it ten times a night. The Washington Post book reviews may not have insight on this, but joreads, a mom, TX, on Amazon.com, will.

25 March 2008

It's Opening Day!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I'm waiting for the first pitch at 6.07--in the morning. But still....the 2008 season is here. The pre-game ceremony is over. The flowers have been exchanged (do they do that before every game?) There seems to be some difficulty getting the microphones synchronised, but so long as no one yells "Remember Pearl Harbor", that shouldn't be a problem. And Pedroia gets a hit! A lead--off single to start the season. World Series repeat here we come!

My father, who was born in 1943 and was a World War II historian, never quite forgave Japan for its contribution to the Axis cause. So something tells me he would have had mixed feelings about the now distinctly Japanese profile that the Red Sox have (as well as MLB, for that matter.) But as I watched a military band perform "The Stars and Stripes Forever" in the Tokyo Dome (he definitely would have liked that!) I can't help but try to look past the recent observation of the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Is it too unrealistic to hope that perhaps, 50 or 60 years from now, baseball could be played there between American teams, in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, with a star Iraqi pitcher? Is that any more unbelievable than this morning's game would be for someone like my father? I certainly hope not, and if I have any hope in the future of mankind, I have to believe it is possible.

21 March 2008

Lois Lowry

The recent release of Lois Lowry's new book, The Willoughbys, is no doubt the inspiration for a couple of interesting pieces about her in the Washington Post. One she penned herself, describing how a penchant for fibs (some well-intentioned, some indulgent) showed a mind inclined towards narrative. The other is a profile, with an opening line that sets the reader up to understand that she is a woman who has overcome odds to create her canon. I didn't need that to appreciate what she has gifted to children's literature. Her books speak for themselves. I'm looking forward to reading the lastest one.

Oh yes--I'm back from Mexico! Allow me to make a plug for the Royal Solaris Cancun, the resort at which we stayed. If you're looking for an all-inclusive resort, clean and well-organized, kid-friendly and adult-accomodating, then you will do well to go here.

08 March 2008


I'm off to Mexico, where I will put down my guru cap and pick up my sombrero. I've packed some children's books/YA titles that I've been meaning to read for awhile now: Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl, Erin Hunter's Into the Wild, and Stephanie Meyer's formidable Twilight. See ya in ten!

01 March 2008

While not quite fan mail.......

It's highly gratifying to know that something I wrote has brought such pleasure to someone else. While I would love it if there was such an enthusiastic response to one of my stories, it's nice to know that my critical writing is being used for good! So yes, I will print this out and keep it safe with the fan letters I got when "The Golden Lion" appeared in Cricket.

But I think it's safe to say that there will be no appreciative missives from Joyce Carol Oates, after what I wrote about her book. I always try to review from a position of honesty, and if a book is rubbish, I try to offer concrete evidence as to why I think is belongs in the bin rather than the stacks. The same with a favorable review. If I'm going to gush, I gush responsibly!

Animated Horton

The NEA, sponsoring this year's Read Across America, has made available an animated version of Horton Hears A Who. The book, by the inimitable Dr. Seuss, can be downloaded from kidthing. Read Across America is happening Monday March 3, 2008. The theatrical release of Horton Hears a Who is not far behind.

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