Saturday, December 18, 2010

Proof is in the Pudding

I've been complaining about the poor quality of editing in the Transformational Book Circle books I've been reading.  Here is an example from their edition of Siddhartha: An Indian Tale by Hermann Hesse which is why it is hard to appreciate the quality of the story because the frustration I feel at the editing is obviously associated with the editing as I'm reading along.

Anyway.  Enough.  Here's an example and perhaps you will agree or disagree with me.

“And do you, sir, intent to continue travelling without clothes?”
“Ah, most of all I wouldn’t want to continue travelling at all. Most of all I would like you, ferryman, to give me an old loincloth and kept me with you as your assistant, or rather as your trainee, for I’ll have to learn first how to handle the boat.”
For a long time, the ferryman looked at the stranger, searching.
“Now I recognise you,” he finally said.  “At one time, you’ve slept in my hut, this was a long time ago, possibly more than twenty years ago, and you’ve been ferried across the river by me, and we parted like good friends.  Haven’t you’ve been a Samana?  I can’t think of your name any more.”  (93)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Biggest Loser Blitz

At some point in the past, a friend and I watched The Biggest Loser for an entire season. I’d heard from others that the show is inspiring, that they thought I would find it fun to watch, etc.  So I finally broke down and watched it.  Unfortunately, I think I chose a season that was not the nicest one.  I ended up disliking more than one of the people on the program.  In fact, the only people I came away liking were the trainers and two of the competitors.  Everyone else . . . well, it doesn’t matter.  I suffered through the season and vowed never again.

(I want to interject here that it is absolutely intentional that I am not mentioned which season I watched because I really don’t like how I felt about the people on the show and I would rather not be asked whom I liked, disliked, etc.  It’s my little secret.  Well, mine and Rob’s and my friend’s anyway.

I should also interject that this post is going to be insanely long.  Go get a cup of tea or something and settle in for the ride.  I'm sharing reviews but also some of my thoughts and experiences.)

But like I said, I liked the trainers so I borrowed Jillian Michaels’ book, Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! from the public library and I can’t say that I loved it.  It’s good information and if you don’t know about portion control and how your body works, this is a resource you may need.  I didn’t really find anything new as far as inspiring information or new habits I must adopt.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I just wasn't blown away.

Yes, I had hoped for more.  Still, the advice is balanced and is not generic.  She is aware that what is true for some is not true for all and it is the reader's responsibility to know their own body, listen to it, and see a physician, etc.

(Interestingly enough, the friend with whom I watched the show didn’t lose any weight during the time we were holding one another accountable.  Then again, neither did I.  We are no longer friends, I guess.  I had repeatedly said that we should not celebrate my losing a pound or two until I had reached a certain weight loss goal.  However, every time I lost a pound, even though he had seen me regain that same five pounds for months at this point, he’d be woohoo-ing and acting like it was a major gain.  There was other evidence of his lack of sincere support in that I would specifically say “I need this” or “I do not need that” and I would get the opposite.  So I told him the accountability was not working for me and we should probably just stop working together as weight loss partners.  And I never heard from him again.  Ummmm . . . really?  I said, “I don’t want to continue this part of our friendship” I didn’t say, “Fuck off you fat asshole.”  I guess he misunderstood.)

I subscribe to various newsletters via my email and one of them is always lauding The Biggest Loser.  I had also tried some samples of the workouts on my cable service’s On Demand feature.  I was disappointed with Bob Harper’s yoga workout, The Biggest Loser:  Weight Loss Yoga, because it was not how I like my yoga.  I found his instructions unclear at times and I would rather just do my own morning practice than his.  I also sampled Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred and was very impressed with how challenging she can make a 20 minute workout.  I was dripping sweat!  Wow!

I figured I’d go ahead and read one of the Biggest Loser books and found that my library had The Biggest Loser: 6 Weeks to a Healthier You.  Color me surprised but I really think this is a good book.  I didn’t like any of the recipes.  I didn’t try them all but what I did try nobody liked so that part of the book was a disappointment.  I skipped the beginning part because it featured past competitors sharing their inspiring stories.  I figured that if I didn’t follow them through a season of the show, I probably wouldn’t know enough about them from a couple of pages to find their story inspiring.  (Rather like those magazines that have the one page before and after story of someone who lost weight with a sidebar about how she did it.  I just don’t find these things motivating.)

The exercise plan is where this book takes off.  It is a good plan, very slowly moving from easy to more challenging.  You begin with 20 minutes of cardio and build up to more, adding a couple of minutes every day or so.  After a week, you add strength training, and it includes a day off.  Can’t do a full 20 minutes of cardio?  The plan allows you to break the 20 minutes into shorter walks building up to a full 20 minutes at one time.  Albeit, I do 45 mins on the bike almost every day so I didn’t need to build up at all.

Sprinkled in with the daily recommendations is a training tip or motivational quote or story.  The diet is also easy to follow, even if you don’t like the recipes in the book.

It’s good.  It’s colorful.  It’s sexy.  I liked it more than I thought I would.

(Since I seem to be sharing my personal stories in the midst of this blitz review, I may as well interject another.  When I ended the one accountability relationship I did reach out to several other people suggesting that we get together and go out for walks.  I encouraged Rob to get into the habit of exercising daily.  He’s complained about losing strength but he’s since stopped mentioning it because after several false starts he realizes that he either needs to shit or get off the pot.  I guess he’s decided to just say nothing rather than have me look at him and say, “Okay.  So tomorrow morning we’ll start, right?”

Anyway, long story not getting shorter, nobody took me up on the offer.  Oh well.  I’m still here.  And yesterday when I met with Kanika over IHOP pancakes, I threw down the gauntlet.  We’ll do the 30 Day Shred workout together.  Woohoo!  Yay team!)

And because I liked the book more than I had thought I would, I decided to give the show another shot.  This season, although I don’t like everyone I don’t utterly dislike anyone.  In fact, I feel far more compassionate towards some of the contenders than I would have anticipated.  One person who was voted off early in the program was especially heartbreaking for me and one of the stronger contenders for this season continues to touch my heart week after week.

Am I inspired, however?  Not really.  I feel more like a cheerleader.  Am I more motivated to exercise?  Not really.  I am more motivated, however, to learn more about the people on the show, or so it would seem because I decided to read Ali Vincent’s book Believe It Be It:  How Being the Biggest Loser Won Me Back My Life.  Vincent is the first woman to win on this show and her weight loss was remarkable.  She is also featured in a lot of the Biggest Loser merchandise.  She’s the spokesperson for the meal replacement shakes that are sold under the umbrella of the program and she is used as the model for the exercises recommended in 30 Day Jump Start.

Her experience on the show is insightful more than inspirational.  Anyone who has watched the show for even one season knows that the workouts are intense.  The truth is, they are extreme and not even remotely safe for someone to try to do at home.  Vincent says that the workouts with the trainers last 3 hours.  Then, there is more exercise, not including the challenges.  Apparently, while on the ranch these people exercise 6-8 hours daily.  Sometimes they exercise 10 hours in a single day.  Is it any wonder they lose so many pounds week after week?  It is ridiculous and blatantly unhealthy.  But this book isn’t meant to be a “how to” book.  It’s meant to inspire.  If Vincent can do it, you can do it too, apparently.

I wasn’t inspired.  Oops.  What’s more, I was flat out disappointed.  About halfway through the book, Vincent begins sharing her own intention to give back to the community.  Her journey of weight loss is merely the beginning and she tells her readers how she is continuing her commitment to health by creating an organization that will help young people, especially young women, to learn healthy ways of living, including nutrition and exercise information.  Inspired to do this after learning that many schools have been forced to remove physical fitness courses due to budget cuts, Vincent apparently was not inspired enough to do something many other authors do.

Why, if this cause is so near and dear to her heart, is she not contributing her profits from the sale of this book to her own organization?  Having recently read a book by a best-selling author who contributed all of his profits to an organization that is not his own, I fully expected Vincent would do the same.  Of course, she’s not a best-selling author but she’s making some money with her speaking engagements and this is her organization.  I just don’t get it.  It probably doesn’t help that I recently read a book by an author whose name is not on the best-seller list and all of her profits were donated to a good cause.  Even a poorly written novel donates money to a good cause.

So color me highly disappointed by Vincent’s choice not to donate all of her profits from this book to her own organization.  I’m assuming that her story will inspire others, even if it didn’t inspire me.

(Kanika and I are back on the 30 Day Shred bandwagon.  However, when we tried it before we were in such agony the next few days that we couldn’t even get through it more than 2-3 times a month.  Not quite what either of us expected or wanted, especially since it forced me to stop doing anything else more than once and I would rather exercise every day than work so hard one day that I have to take 3-4 days off because my knee is hurting me so badly that I can barely do anything at all.  Sort of defeats the purpose, overtraining one day and not exercising at all for the next few days.  But the 30 Day Shred workout is nicely divided into 3 circuits so I told Kanika that I would begin doing the first circuit and, when I could do it comfortably, the second circuit until I was finally able to do the full 20 minutes of the dvd.  I challenged her to join me.  She took me up on my challenge which means now I have to follow through.  Oops.)

In spite of my blatant disappointment in Ali Vincent’s book, I am a glutton for punishment and chose to borrow another Biggest Loser themed book.

For obvious reasons, I decided to avoid another memoir and just chose another of the official biggest loser books.  This one, The Biggest Loser 30-Day Jump Start which, like the six week program reviewed above, is full of inspirational stories, mixed in with recipes and exercise suggestions.  I like this book as much as the other.  All the same good things, like the exercises being offered at different levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced), a few recipes (I found more that I wanted to try in this book than in the other), and still more inspirational stories.

Okay.  So I skipped the stories because I didn't find the few I skimmed so inspiring.  (Or, rather, they inspired me not to bother skimming them altogether, which I am confidently going to say is not what the editors intended.)  But each chapter in this book focuses on a different health concern related to obesity, beginning with diabetes and moving through heart disease, high cholesterol, etc.

But if you've watched the show then odds are you've noticed that the Biggest Loser franchise is prone to product placement and this book is no less guilty of pushing their agenda than the rest.  Do you really need a Biggest Loser food scale?  I mean, seriously.  Do you?  I mean, maybe you want to buy a couple of the dvds but do you also need to buy their exercise equipment kit?  My guess is that, if I bothered to look, one could buy Biggest Loser clothing and towels and . . .

And it is insulting enough to the intelligence of your audience to have the contestants sit down and talk about how wonderful this chewing gum is while spouting off statistics.  I suggest that instead of only finding obese contestants the producers start looking for obese actors to be on the show.  Then at least the product placement moments wouldn't be so obvious.  They would at least sound more natural, even if they were still rather obvious.

Rob and I did watch this most recent season of the show and we honestly enjoyed it.  We didn't dislike any of the contestants and I noticed that there seemed to be less hostility between the players, that they were sincerely more supportive of one another, even through the finale where one player was applauding another one whom he thought had beat him for the home weight loss prize.  As Rob said, the nice thing about the show is that the person who wins does so because of what they do.  Admittedly, there is some game playing, some strategizing.  Some strong players get voted off towards the middle of the season because they are an obvious threat allowing some weaker players to stay on the ranch longer.  (Oh, and in case you missed the product placement, you too can go to the ranch for a holiday.  It's not the same ranch and you won't have Jillian yelling at you to do ten more minutes or have Bob gently urging you to give it ten more times, but you can go to a ranch and presumably lose some weight.  I haven't looked at the cost but I'd imagine it isn't cheap.  And how much longer before they start training people in different parts of the country so they can open new ranches where you, yes you, can lose weight like the people on the show do . . . after you buy some Biggest Loser protein powder, Laughing Cow cheese, and Extra sugar free gum, that is.  *sigh*)

Inspirational?  I admit that there were times I felt a deep compassion for the contestants.  For fun I pulled out my step and tried to do 500 steps since this was a challenge that actually caused one person to collapse.  I did it without collapsing and the next day didn't feel a great deal of tightness.

I think the show sets up ridiculous expectations and shows weight loss at its most vulgar.  I know that they aren't encouraging people to exercise until they throw up but it's hard not to watch and think, "If this is what it takes to lose weight then no wonder I'm not able to lose this weight."  The books give lip service to how the numbers we the viewers see are not realistic, warning that the contestants have access to 24/7 medical care, etc.

But you know, when the emotions are stirred, intellect flies out the window.  And the producers know this too.  So they inspire you (or, if you want to be brutally honest with yourself, they manipulate you) into feeling for or with the contestant and then, when you see them doing something you know is dangerous in any other context, the emotional connection over-rules the rational wisdom.  This is why intelligent people fall in love with someone who is clearly not a candidate for a healthy relationship and stay in the relationship long after every red flag has been raised and waved.

So is it any wonder this show is a success?  Seduce with emotions and then put people through a diet and exercise program that is not actually healthy and then put warning labels on your products about medical supervision and "don't try this at home, kids" but . . . just in case you do want to try this at home let's sell you as much as we can and get every penny out of you because the diet industry, as we all know, is worth billions.

The problem here is . . . do you buy Biggest Loser protein powder or Jillian Michaels' protein powder?  Or do you go to the ranch or join Jillian on a cruise?  Never fear, oh intrepid Biggest Loser watcher, she will be leaving the show after next season and you can just sit back and let Biggest Loser endorse their asses off while you, hopefully, are doing something to lose yours.

As for me and mine . . . I'm not buying any of the books and I doubt we'll watch another season.  Rob and I liked this past season but we both agree that what we liked is the camaraderie between the contestants, something I did not see in the previous season and which I suspect is the exception and not the rule.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Build-a-Bear and Star Wars

Build-A-Bear Workshop-United States: Search Results: Photo View

What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson

What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson is another of the Transformational Book Circle collection and I have to say that I am completely ambivalent about this novel.

For one thing, the editing in this book is so terrible that I can’t say with any certainty that my negative feelings are directed towards the content or the way it was treated. Trying to a read a book where paragraph breaks occasionally are misplaced as are periods and commas, where an I is not capitalized when used as a first person singular but is when it is the first letter in the middle of a sentence. The editing on this book is so bad I would almost think it is self-published. And every time I came across yet another crappy edit, I felt more frustrated with the whole process of reading the book.

Another problem is that the author clearly had an agenda–a message he wanted to communicate with his reader. Sometimes a novel can do this well. Typically, however, the novel comes off as contrived and occasionally trite. This one is not trite but it’s hard not to feel manipulated page-by-page as the characters proselytize a message about life after death.

Why not write a memoir? Or a non-fiction book? If you have an agenda, don’t insult your reader by cloaking it as fiction. If you want to teach a lesson, at least be honest in your intention. Sure, you can use stories or parables to drive home certain points but at least contextualize them in an honest framework. Otherwise it mostly comes off as disingenuous.

But the truth is, I simply can’t say if my frustration begins and ends with the editing and that how I feel about the novel itself is overshadowed by that or if I feel a disappointment that is solely the responsibility of the novel’s author. Of course, it could be that this book is one of those rare exceptions where the movie is actually better than the book. And I really like the movie so I am genuinely disappointed in this book.

As for the CD that accompanies this particular edition . . .

If you enjoyed the movie and want to hear some of the story behind how it eventually came to be made, then you will enjoy Stephen Simon's story about how he came to work with Robert Matheson (who wrote the novel that inspired Somewhere In Time) and the many obstacles Simon faced in trying to get this novel made into a film.  He never sinks the story into gossip but shares some personal experience and you get a sense of his deep passion and commitment to making literate films.  I know that both Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come are the type of films people either love or hate.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Comfort and Joy by Fern Michaels (and others)

Comfort and Joy by Fern Michaels, Cathy Lamb, Marie Bostwick, and Deborah J Wolf is a collection of novellas all with a holiday theme.

Comfort and Joy by Fern Michaels is the first story, a stereotypical romance about a very handsome man and a beautiful woman who are butting heads until circumstances force them to cooperate with one another.  Add a meddling mother and a patronizing father and you have all the makings of a cliché ridden romance.  I expect some clichés in a Christmas story.  Cliché I can forgive; boring I cannot.

A High-Kicking Christmas by Marie Bostwick is a variation on a romantic theme.  Single career-minded woman, this time a dancer with dreams of being on Broadway, breaks her ankle.  Lucky for her she has recently befriended a girl from a small town where she can go to recuperate and fall in love with the friend's brother who happens to be a pastor with a young child.  Enter a complication one could see coming a mile away and you have the inevitable ending.  This one was a bit insulting, however.  The characters are all stereotypes.  The former Rockette, because this dancer is actually dancing at Radio City Music Hall if not on Broadway and still feels like a failure (?), comments on how considerate the elderly couple, with whom she is staying while she recuperates, is and says that she would never find that in New York.  Maybe I took that one a little personally because I'm from NY and on the same day I read this part of the story I received an email from an unexpected source thanking me for my thoughtfulness.  Yes, Virginia, not only is there a Santa Claus but there are actually considerate New Yorkers!  And then there's another ridiculous scene in which an elderly widow lambasts the dancer by equating what she does as a Rockette with burlesque dancing, wearing skimpy costumes and make-up an inch thick, etc.  When is this story supposedly taking place because the last time I checked, the Rockettes were not considered risqué or harlots?  Pffft . . . the whole story was just silly and predictable.

Suzanne's Stockings by Cathy Lamb started off with great promise but, by the end, had degenerated for me. I overlooked a lot of tedious clichés at the beginning because of the interesting premise:  woman in a coma gets to see the reality of her life and those of her friends and family.  Sort of like It's a Wonderful Life only, instead of seeing how everyone's life would be without her she gets to see what's really going on in the lives of everyone behind closed doors, including her fiancé, who is the weakest character in the story.  Most of the characters seem to have layers as their secrets reveal facets of each person not immediately apparent on the surface.  However, Suzanna's fiancé has no redeeming qualities; he's not only short and not terribly attractive but he's dispassionate (not even good in bed!), rude and condescending to everyone, a liar in business, manipulative with his family members to the point of being nearly abusive, and he is eager to pull the plug on his "beloved."  Oh . . . and his deep dark secret that is literally kept behind closed doors is a bore.  I don't want to spoil it but given every other loathsome personality trait he has, his one secret seems so silly.  Hardly a deal breaker.  I think if Lamb could have infused the fiancé with some compassion or even likability then I might have liked this story even if it proved predictable.  But no.  Close but no cigar.  I almost could have liked this one.  *sigh*

Family Blessings by Deborah J Wolf could possibly be more offensive than I found it but I refused to even finish this story.  It began with some promise, the story about a woman who has Alzheimer's and its effect on the family, a large Irish (presumably Catholic) family.  However, in chapter two we are told that the narrator's uncle Daniel has been a source of familial consternation because he "dropped out of college two months into his sophomore year, fathered a child out of wedlock, married a Jamaican woman darker than a starless night, and had been in and out of rehab" more times that the narrator can count (397).

Let me emphasize:  married a Jamaican woman darker than a starless night.

Let me further emphasize:  this is listed as one of the sources of consternation.

Are you fucking kidding me?  Do I even have to explain why this is offensive, far more offensive than my using the word "fucking" in the previous sentence?

Or am I the only one who is disgusted when she finds her holiday cheer mixed with racism?

This is the first time, I think, I've reviewed an unfinished book in this blog.  This is not the first time I've left a book unread because I found it racist or offensive.  I wish this story had been the first.  Then I wouldn't have bothered suffering through the first three.

A horrible horrible book which I recommend nobody read.  I will probably not read anything written by any of these women ever again.  And hallelujah!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Caldecott Medal Winners

A Tree is Nice

This book lists the many ways a tree is nice–for shade, for growing fruit, for raking leaves and burning them, etc.  The drawings are simple, the kind of drawings that say much with few lines and alternating between black and white wash pages and colorful ones.  Not an exciting book to read but . . . well, how else can I put this but . . . nice.

For Further Exploration
  • If you have a yard, you can plant a tree with your child and watch it grow.  Perhaps take a picture with your child standing next to the tree on the anniversary of the year the tree was planted.
  • Collect leaves from different types of tree and learn the different types of trees in your area.  Create a nature journal/scrapbook. 
  • Draw leaf shapes on construction paper.  Use autumn colors or even cut out only green leaves and then paint them autumn colors.
  • Study the ecological benefits of trees or about the animals that make trees their habitats.  While making meals, discuss the fruits that grow on trees, how they grow, and where they come from geographically.
  • Make a list of things that are nice.  Pick one and write and illustrate your own book, with all of the things that make your chosen thing “nice.”  
  • Read another book about a tree, one of my favorites, by Shel Silverstein:  The Giving Tree.  Discuss with your child where things come from and how even simple things like the bread we eat and the water we drink comes into our homes through a series of other people and the work they do.  
Baboushka and the Three Kings

This is a charming story, apparently a traditional tale but one with which I am not familiar.  Not too surprising.  I was raised atheist so the Christian themed books were few and far between.  As were the Judaic and Islamic and the Buddhist, Taoist, Hindi, Zoroastrainistismistic . . . well, you get the point.  Anyway, I liked this book.  There’s something sweet about it but it isn’t one I would “must have” on my own bookshelf.

For Further Exploration

  • The illustrations in this book reminded me of stained glass.  So why not study stained glass and how these were used traditionally and as decoration.
  • Make your own stained glass images using black construction paper and tissue paper.  (How to’s can be found online.)
  • Dover Publishers offers a plethora of stained glass coloring books using translucent paper with bold black outlines.  You might want to add a few of these to your collection (for a bit of rainy day fun).
  • Research where this story originated and then where Jesus was born by mapping it on an atlas or globe.  Perhaps write a story about the journey the wise men took after leaving Baboushka's home.
  • Who else might the three wise men have met along their journey to Jerusalem?  Write another story about someone else who either didn’t follow the wise men (like Baboushka) or decided to join them (unlike Baboushka).

Chanticleer and the Fox

How could an English major, such as myself, resist a retelling of a medieval classic?  I certainly can't.  The story is fun to read, with a few challenging words to help build vocabulary.  The illustrations are reminiscent of older, traditional illuminated pages.  Really charming.

For Further Exploration

  • There are many tales of a fox trying to outsmart another animal, with more or less success.  Perhaps read one or two others and compare and contrast the stories.
  • Look at examples of illuminated manuscripts and perhaps have the child draw an illuminated story, either making up their own story or one that is a family favorite, even a story from your own childhood.  
  • For the older child, talk about personification and how the animals are given human traits.  Explore the moral lesson of the story and think of examples in your lives when perhaps a little flattery took things too far.
  • For the still older child, why not read some of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for yourself?  I'd recommend getting a version that is told in updated English if you are not accustomed to reading medieval English.  Some of the stories are quite "colorful" so be prepared to blush.
  • For that same "still older child" talk about the idea of pilgrimages and plague, about Sir Thomas Becket, using a map to familiarize yourselves with the journey the tale tellers are taking.  And . . .
  •  Research the different roles the tellers hold (reeve, miller, knight, etc.).  And of course, 
  •  Since Chaucer never actually finished the tales, find a pilgrim who doesn't tell a story and have the child write another tale to be added to the Canterbury Tales.
  • Bocaccio's Decameron is considered Chaucer's inspiration.  You definitely want your child to be older before reading this one together because some of these stories made me blush, or at least made me think I should blush.  I don't blush easily.

Nine Days to Christmas:  A Story of Mexico

This is the story of a young girl's first posada, a traditional holiday party, complete with pinatas and a parade and more.  The illustrations are deceptively simple, the colors vivid but the images gentle, and surprisingly evocative.

For Further Exploration

  • Learn about the holiday traditions of another culture.  There are so many out there!  You could even do a countdown to the holidays, learning about a new tradition every day up until Christmas (Kwanzaa/Chanukah/New Year/et al).
  • Write a story about your own family traditions.  What do you do, year after year to make the holidays special?  
  • Search online for how to make your own piñata and on the next rainy day, make your very own piñata.  Hang it up for the next celebration (birthday, anniversary, or whatever).
  • Ultimately, this story is about a few days in a child's life.  Why not write and illustrate a book about a day in your child's life together?  (If you know that "tomorrow" will be a rainy one, make a list of the things your child does today and tomorrow, when the weather keeps you all indoors, sit down with paper and crayons and write your very own story!)
  • For the older child, study Mexico's history, learn about some of the great Mexican-American citizens who have helped our nation. Discuss immigration laws and what these things mean for our country.
  • Learn some Spanish Mexican (not Spanish, there is a difference) phrases.  Compare the two languages, 

Time of Wonder

A summer in Maine is described in detail with illustrations that are vibrant.  The sensory details McCloskey evokes on the page make this an interesting book to read.

For Further Exploration

  • Discuss the five senses and look for examples of each throughout the book. Which sense is evoked the most?  Which is used the least?
  • Look up all of the animals mentioned.  Perhaps add descriptions and illustrations to your nature journal (see above).
  • Have your child write about summer and the things you do as a family from one season to the next.
  • Look closely at the illustrations at the many different types of boats.  Research boats and boating.  Learn how to fold a paper boat or, if you are more ambitious, find a model and build a model boat.  If you have access to a boat, why not go rowing or even fishing?  
  • Notice the way McCloskey paints the scene with the hurricane, how his brush strokes create movement.  Look at painting masterpieces where brush strokes are used vividly to create movement in a painting.  Have the child try to do this for themselves painting either a rainy or windy day or an event in which there is a lot of motion.
  • For the older child, notice the reference to the "Indians" and discuss indigenous tribes that lived in the area before European colonization.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

No Such Thing

They say that there's no such thing as bad publicity. If that's the case, then it must be a good thing that a ballet critic said, in a review, that Jenifer Ringer, who is currently performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the New York City Ballet's production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, looked like she had eaten one too many sugar plums. The snide remark was meant to suggest she is fat.

Personally, I don't see it. But I've never had a sugar plum. I did a quick search for recipes but they all require a food processor and I have none. Oh well. No sugar plums for me this year. Jenifer Ringer, if you're reading this, you're welcome to come over for the holidays. I'll vouch for you, that you didn't have any sugar plums while you were here.

The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank

The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank is another of the several Christmas novels I’ve decided to give a try this year and lo and behold, I rather liked this one.  Liked, not loved.  The first person narrative voice is solid and the story itself takes place of a span of three days.  I could easily see this being a charming little made-for-television holiday movie, full of family reconciliation, holiday magic, and just a touch of sentimentality.  Most of the characters are two dimensional and, although they undergo a change, it is more extrinsic rather than intrinsic so the characters never evolve into realistic.

I will point out that I was halfway through the novel before I realized that the family wasn't Caucasian.  Not sure what that suggests, except that the descriptions of the family were either vague enough or universal enough to be unnoticed.  What I did notice is a personal discomfort with the stereotype of the titular character, from her speech to her personality.  Oh well.  I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that Christmas would come full of clichés, even if I continue to hope for more.

This one also has a few favorite family recipes, very traditional ones at that.  Rum balls and pecan sandies (called sands) and even a fruitcake that the author promises will please rather than appall.  Hey!  My daughter likes fruitcake so no doubt she would LOVE this recipe!