Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Webkinz as Stories

This is what was told me by my 9-year-old daughter who is an avid Webkinz player. Rumor #1: If you complete the Legendary Crown of Wonder and you put it on your Webkinz pet. The pet will die. Rumor #2: Ms. Birdie (who runs the Adoption Center) will steal your Webkin or she will stab your webkin. Rumor #3: Dr. Quack (the Vet) has a gun and shoots your pet behind the curtain when you take it for a check-up.

Webkinz is an online game site which is designed to be gentle and all the games (even the shoot-them ones) are revised so no one is ever killed and the violence level is probably 5 on a scale of 0 to 100.

And yet, young children obviously create and relish their own darker and more frightening stories. I found this deeply interesting and illuminating.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Balancing Act

I have been thinking ... not only authors have to balance the plot, the tone, the characters, the excitement and the poetic moments, a reader, especially a critical one that has some responsibilities to other readers (such as a teacher or a librarian,) has to perform such acts constantly when recommending and sharing books. I really love Wilson's 100 Cupboards and yet I can totally see some flaws. Do I have to preface my recommendation by "although there are parts of the book that might not seem convincing..." before getting into all the exciting stuff that I believe most children would love? Or, do I just enthusiastically "push" the book like I did today to a bunch of 6th graders without mentioning my own reservations because they might not find those parts as annoying as I did? Shouldn't I somehow be honing their literary critical thinking abilities? If there is a major flaw, shouldn't I point out and "enlighten" these young readers? This dilemma applies to the opposite situations as well -- when I "know" that a book is very well written and painstakingly crafted, but I am not personally responding to it or moved by it, do I then not advocate for it? Or, shouldn't I muster some pretend enthusiasm in hope that maybe some young readers will appreciate the story, the character, the subject matter, etc., even if I have not? I don't do this very well... not well at all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

100 Cupboard

Author: N.D. Wilson
Reading Level: 4th to 6th grade

Pages: 304
Publisher: Random House
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

I completely immersed and lost myself in this original and dark story of magical cupboards, space and time travels, told in a highly folksy manner -- more like folktales passed down through generations, by the hearths, enjoyed along with home-made pies and chicken soup. Absolutely enjoyable. I hope it finds a large audience who will appreciate it not just for the nerve-wrecking adventures but for the author's care in telling the story.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Roasted Chickens

It's funny how I often associate my reading experiences with my food experiences. This is yet another one. I am reading a new fantasy novel and it is so taste-less that I have to keep skipping pages and getting more and more annoyed by the book (and by the author, I guess.) It is like eating a badly roasted chicken. Although the cook rubbed the chicken with all sorts of herbs and roasted until the outside is golden brown, for some reason the meat is neither juicy nor flavorful. The temperature might have been wrong. The herbs might have been too old. The chicken itself might just been bland to start with. Anyway, the meat simply is woody and tastes like paper. The author of this book dressed up the story with all sorts of "ingredients": magical creatures popping up every two pages, dangers lurking at each corner, young people taking charge of matters, and lots of references to historical facts. But, at the core of the tale, there is nothing for me to savor. The sentences are plain, the pacing is laborious, the details are tedious, and the characters are neither vivid nor admirable. In short, I can't swallow this impressive looking bird!

Sunday, April 13, 2008


There is no entry specifically for this journal today -- but I did post on the ALSC Blog. So, I wasn't slacking off completely! In fact, if you click here, you can read all my archived ALSC Posts. See what you think!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Metamor City Podcast

Creator: Chris Lester
Listening Level: Older YA and Adults

Edition: 2007/2008 Audio Podcast

I have been listening to this Sci-Fan podcast for the past few weeks... catching up their early episodes from late 2007 and approaching this year's newer productions. Every story happens in Metamor City -- a futuristic sci-fi setting with magical creatures and fantasy elements. Fairies, demi-gods, mages ride on super-motorbike like vehicles and fight each other with not only magic but modern weaponry. The main ingredients of the stories I've listened to so far are violence, magic, sex, and humor: both light and dark. It's definitely entertaining.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Director: Jim Henson
Writers: Jim Henson, Dennis Lee, and Terry Jones

Edition: 1986 Film

I watched this movie on VHS and DVD many times since its earliest release. Haven't watched it for a while and thought, maybe, the special effects and story and jokes won't work now... 22 years later! But they all STILL work terrificly. No "cringing factors," except, maybe Bowie's dance moves! And we all tolerated that because he's BOWIE! (Watched this with a group of HS students in the Sci-Fan club so, we are pre-conditioned to enjoy movies like this after all.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


So. Here are some books I'm waiting to read: Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book (Fall); Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways -- sequel to Howl's Moving Castle (June); Kate Thompson's The Last of the High Kings -- sequel to The New Policeman (May); Rick Riordan's The Battle of the Labyrinth -- the 4th book of Percy Jackson (May); Tamora Pierce's Bloodhound -- the 2nd book in the Legend of Beka Cooper series; and for the longest time, George .R.R. Martin's Dances with Dragons -- the 5th book in his Song of Ice and Fire series. Hmm... these are ALL fantasies. I guess my taste remains the same.

In the meantime, I'm reading for the Notables, looking for good middle and lower grade titles and great picture books. Another fun thing that I'm doing is to advise a senior project: a young writer is working on her fantasy novel and I'm slowly entering (one chapter at a time, commenting and editing) a world rich with history and magical happenings. It's a lot more fun than I had anticipated!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Willoughbys

Author: Lois Lowry
Reading Level: 3th-5th

Pages: 112
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is a surprising and pleasant find. Lowry has done something very different from her usual style, although it certainly is not the only book of this kind: sarcastic (sardonic, even?) and warm and gentle at the same time. I enjoyed this one tremendously. Will definitely test it out on young readers -- as a read-aloud to start with and then gather their readers' responses.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Enough with the Prophecies!

Today at school, during a heated book discussion, a 6th grade boy exclaimed (over others' fondness of the Warriors series), "Enough with the prophecies!" He couldn't stand the formulaic tradition that seems to be mindlessly overused by fantasy writers these days: someone exists, always, to fulfill a prophecy! I thought he definitely had a point!

And, I add my own exclamation: Enough with the Headless Children on Book Covers; and Enough with the Reflective, Metallic Dust Jacket with Some Sort of Scientific Graphic Designs! (So weird -- so many sci-fi titles and series with almost identical cover designs, but they are not by the same authors or published by the same companies.)

I wonder what other exclamations people have now regarding children's books.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Harry Potter in the House

Lily has been very into HP lately. She's reading the 5th book now and we've caught up with the films to the 4th. I am reminded again how lengthy and tryingly so of the beginning of Goblet of Fire: the repeated problems at the Dursleys, the "journey" to get to the World Cup, and the Quidditch game there.... almost 200 pages before seeing the gang back to Hogwarts. I remember the read a disappointing one for me, since there was high expectation after my favorite 3rd volume. This almost prevented me from reading book V. If not for my sense of "professional" duty, I might have taken one look at the 800+page of Order of Phoenix and gave up. Thinking back, there were quite a few cool moments in HP5 and I can't wait for Lily to discover them. (And I think she won't be annoyed as much by the poorly portrayed teen angst as I was.)

We talked about the length of books and how I am not against long stories. I just have no patience of rambling for rambling sake. One of my favorite books is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and the series of Song of Ice and Fire are both famed for being quite long. The length worked to enhance their charm -- I didn't want the stories to end -- didn't want to get out those worlds to be back to my ordinary universe.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I know I have not been very good at being a blogger. I don't keep a tight schedule. I am not compulsively entering every little thought on these pages. I don't do small talk. I don't post a couple of links or news about books. But, maybe I should. Maybe I should take my blogger responsibilities a bit more seriously. Maybe I should tell you that I am re-reading and re-looking at Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee (1978) -- a long time treasure of mine. The book that taught me a lot -- not just in Faerie lores but in being able to read narratives in English (I was a freshman in college in Taiwan, studying to become an English teacher) and also to decipher hand-written texts. And how much I want to share this book with my 9-year-old big reader daughter who has just recently finished Spiderwick Chronicles.

Or perhaps, I should write about all the little conversations I have with my daughter and my students regarding all sorts of stories. Such as tonight, after watching the truly excellent 3rd Harry Potter movie, her indignation over the changes the director and the filmwright (sp?) had made. Or how some of my students are excited about Airman and For Boys Only.

I guess I just convinced myself that, for my own sake, I should start writing as often as I can manage and just FORCE myself to be diligent about recording my thoughts and experiences regarding stories here. Preferably on a daily basis.