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Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Monday, June 27, 2011

Courage Book Review - Who is the Other Mother? (and how do I get away from her!!?)

I was struck by Lisa's post yesterday about playing the Lion Game; what struck me was her young son's conviction that she really had "gone away" and had become something else.  In this case, she had become a lion to him, and he was as frightened as if it had really happened.  You could say that for him, it really had happened.  This is a confusion that children grow out of; when they're older they can recognize their parents under masks or in costumes, and not be bewildered.

Coraline   [CORALINE] [Hardcover]Yet the fear... do children outgrow it?  Today's review is of a spectacularly creepy book which enthralls middle grade children and unnerves parents.  Coraline, by the masterful storyteller of the macabre, Neil Gaiman.  

Here we have a child left to her own devices in an old house.  Her parents are busy and distracted.  She finds a mysterious passageway into a mirror house, and to her surprise and initial delight, she finds another set of parents.  

"Coraline?" the woman said.  "Is that you?"

And then she turned around.  Her eyes were big black buttons.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Courage Book Review - The Wanderer

Last week I reviewed two illustrated versions of the Iliad.  Today, we take up the tale with adaptations for kids of the Odyssey.  Although with the earlier epic highlighted the control of the gods, the takeaway for this week is self-control.  Once again, we explore internal vs. external locus of control.

The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of the Odyssey [WANDERINGS OF ODYSSEUS -OS]Again, we have the masterful Rosemary Sutcliff at work with The Wanderings of Odysseus.  As many adapters of the story do, she rearranges the events into a chronological narrative.  (The original is full of flashbacks and intercut with "meanwhile, in Ithaca" scenes.)  Sutcliff moves Odysseus briskly from the smoldering ruins of Troy to the island of the Cyclops, where they are captured by the bloodthirsty Polyphemus.   From the extreme external locus of control found in the Iliad, we now have an interior locus of control.  "The Greeks were near despair.  But there was a plan forming in Odysseus' head, by which he might save at least some of them."   In Homer (I have the Fitzgerald translation) Odysseus says, "And now I pondered how to hurt him worst, if but Athena granted what I prayed for.  Here are the means I thought would serve my turn."  Odysseus gets credit now for the plan; you may recall Athena was responsible for putting the thought of the Trojan Horse into his mind.  So we have moved to an interior locus of control in this narrative - and it will be much to the regret of Odysseus, for as they escape from the blinded Cyclops, the cunning man gloats and mocks: "If anyone asks who blinded you, tell them it was Odysseus, son of Laertes and Lord of Ithaca, Odysseus the Sacker of Cities!"  It is this moment of foolish braggadocio that costs Odysseus so dearly, for Polyphemus cries out to his father, Poseidon, god of the sea, to take revenge.  Oops.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Courage Book Review - the Black Ships

Yesterday Lisa talked about internal vs. external locus of control.  Today I want to talk about extreme-external locus of control!  I want to talk about Helen of the Fair Cheeks and the death of Achilles.  Yes, the Trojan War.

Offering the Trojan War (and its backstories) to kids 11 years old and up is a fascinating and dramatic way to explore the concept of personal responsibility.  The gods are the ultimate puppeteers here:  Thetis dips Achilles into the River Styx to make him invulnerable; Aphrodite sends Paris to go fall in love with (already married) Helen; Apollo sends disease to the Greeks to punish Agamemnon for kidnapping Chriseis;  Athena, Zeus, Hera -- these gods can't mind their own business for a moment!  They send dreams, they appear in disguise as trusted friends giving counsel, they produce obscuring clouds of mist at crucial moments of battle.  The mortals themselves accept this meddling as natural, if often inconvenient - like weather.

What is so fascinating about all this, aside from the great story-telling of it, is that consciousness itself may have been quite different at the time of these events.  People may not have recognized that their  thoughts, emotions and feelings arose within themselves.  (For a review of the difference between emotions and feelings, please revisit "What is Emotional Courage.") Ascribing  insight, anger, jealousy or passionate love to an external force may have been all the Ancients could do.  And yet we see glimmers of personal responsibility and internal locus of control shining through chinks in the armor.  Behold the 11 year old child!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Courage Book Review - Three by Idries Shah

Afghan scholar and author, Idries Shah, spent years interpreting the Sufi tradition for a Western audience.  With many illustrated picture books to choose from, Lion's Whiskers here offers three.

The Silly ChickenFirst, we have The Silly Chicken, illustrated by Jeff Jackson, which offers a very amusing parable about intellectual courage.  I remember many years ago asking myself why people in fantasy stories were always so quick to believe talking animals.  Why would you place such confidence in the accuracy of the animal's information, or assume a lack of agenda?  Might the animal not be a liar?  Might the animal not be stupid?  In this book, we have a excellent example of why being skeptical of talking animals may be proper wisdom.   A man spends a great deal of effort teaching a chicken to talk; finally, the chicken does speak, and what the chicken says sends the people of the town off into a  hair-tearing panic.  After a great deal of confusion, the people finally discover they've been given information by someone with no intelligence at all.  They ask "How could you tell us such a thing?"  And the chicken - with common sense that can only be seen as ironic - replies, "Only silly people would listen to a chicken in the first place."  In an age when we swallow information - especially alarming information - without chewing first, this is a timely cautionary tale!  The pictures are cheerful with bright, bold primary colors, and the book is sure to amuse young children.  Feel free to act it out.  The story is just begging for exaggeration and silliness.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Courage Book Review - 1,001 Versions of the Arabian Nights

The great, overstuffed toy box that is the 1,001 Arabian Nights has provided stories and inspiration for generations, with examples of each of the six types of courage.  How many of us have had occasion to say "Open Sesame!" or joked about the perils of rubbing tarnished lamps?  It is likely that only scholars or novelists would attempt to make their way through the entire collection.  For most of us, "selections" will have to do.  Rather than 1,001 we might be satisfied with far fewer - the highlights reel.  Here are three to consider:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Courage Book Review - Speaking of Courage Again

The Brave CowboyHere are a couple of feel-good courage books for your young child.

The Brave Cowboy, by Joan Walsh Anglund is a classic that has been around for over 50 years.  It has a small, square trim size, just right for small hands to hold.  The black line art is enhanced with red line art, indicating the fantasies of the young cowboy, who, needless to say, is not afraid of anything.  Sometimes "he had troubles... when he tent collapsed while he was camping out...when he ran out of food on the trail, far away from camp, when his horse went lame while he was hunting buffalo.  But he was never baffled...he was not afraid...and he never gave up."  Just right for young buckaroos intent on roping teddy bears.  I happen to know a 3-year-old cowboy who could easily have been the inspiration for this sweet book.  It is not a bad place to start.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Courage Book Review - "I will stir up the waters of the old days and shape the long-ago then into now."

BeowulfToday's offering is a great retelling of Beowulf. This version is subtitled, A Hero's Tale Retold, and was written and illustrated by James Rumford. What is particularly appealing about this retelling for kids is that Rumford tells the story using only words that have entered English from Anglo-Saxon roots. This gives the book something of the gristle and chewiness of the original poem. Words and phrases such as "fire-hearted" "locklike" "gold-shining" and "over the wide whale sea," give this Beowulf real guts. Rumford acknowledges a debt of inspiration to Seamus Heaney's masterful and muscular translation of Beowulf. The illustrations are full of writhing, serpentine forms and dark cross-hatching, making the art both dynamic and somber, much like the story itself.  It sounds wonderful read out loud.

But why, you might ask read this story to kids? What does a monster tale from more than a thousand years ago have for our kids today? Isn't the super-hero with sword and shield a bit too retro in this information age?  Isn't this just something English literature majors have to get through in college?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Courage Book Review - Speaking of Courage

Today we offer some books you might share with your kids.

CourageFirst, because Lion's Whiskers is about courage, we have a simple, sweet and heart-felt picture book by author-illustrator, Bernard Waber,  Courage. In one-line sentences with accompanying illustrations, this book shows examples of all six types of courage, from the "awesome kinds" to the "everyday kinds." "Courage is two candy bars and saving one for tomorrow," is a great example of emotional courage activating self-control. "Courage is tasting the vegetable before making a face," shows us the physical courage to try new foods. Social courage is clear in, "Courage is being the first to make up after an argument." Every page offers something to inspire conversation about the big and little things that take courage in a child's life. A must for every child's courage collection.  Recommended for preschool and up.