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Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus.

[READ: February 2, 2018] Amulet: Supernova

It has been SIX YEARS since I read the previous book in the series and the final book isn’t even out yet!  When I finished book seven I wrote “How can I wait a year for book 8?  [Word has it Book 8 will come out in 2018].”   And in that year I totally forgot about this series.  Whoops.

So it was a little hard catching up to what was going on, but I managed.

The book opens with Trellis in a dream.  he meets an old woman traveler who guides him through his dream.  Before he wakes he asks if he will see her again–she says sooner than you expect.  When Trellis wakes, he is told the elf army has made landfall.

But when we see the army, led by a small creature named Logi, Logi tells the commander that their plan is surrender.  Trellis can’t believe it, but it appears to be true and they take the army into lock up. The city celebrates Trellis, but he is suspicious and he has every right to be because Logi has a token of the Elf King’s affection–a glowing object,

Which turns out to be a bomb of sorts.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: January 12, 2022] The Bad Guys Episode One

A movie is coming out about this book series (Scholastic must have SO MUCH MONEY!).  S. brought it home from the library and I figured I’d give it a read.  And five minutes later I’d finished it.

It’s pretty funny (although not as funny as I would have liked).

It’s also clearly designed for young readers since there are usually no more than five words per page.  I guess it’s a graphic novel, although there are chapters.

The book opens with Mr Wolf staring at us and telling us to come closer.  But we are smart, we know he is a monster so we do not get any closer. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: January 10, 2021] Gravepyres School for the Recently Deceased

I found this book at work and was instantly intrigued by many things.  The title Gravepyres sounded unusual to me.  It also seemed like a children’s book (which it is).  Plus, it had a stamp that said “For sale only within the territories of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”  Which I found pretty fascinating.

Even more so because this is a children’s fantasy book about being dead and the kind of “life” that you can have “there.”  I thought it might be quite different than an American book.

The book opens on Jose who has just died.  He has no idea that he just died and as he is trying to get his bearings, he is greeted by a small, bossy girl named Mishi.  She brings him to Gravepyres School for the Recently Deceased.  She tours him around the place, scolds him for his poor clothing (she provides him with a tunic) and tells him to get ready for classes..

Of course there is school when you are dead!  There is mathamythics.  Where the seemingly simple question 6+4= is not what one expects.  None of the students answered until finally one of them said four hundred and sixteen.  Jose chuckled, but the teacher said “Good, excellent.”  Other seemingly correct answers were ninety seven and a half, eight thousand, fifty two, even twelve.  But when Jose said the answer is ten, Professor Styx said Oh dear. not quite.  The rest of the classes made the same amount of sense.

Like Scare Studies from Madam Morte and Seeing from Dr Chiplunker (who wore the most outrageous spectacles he had ever seen).  Can you See the pencil in front of you?  Look closely.  Look at it for an hour.  Jose decided it was the most boring class he had ever heard of. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 24, 2021] “The Young King”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

I was pretty delighted that Oscar Wilde was selected for this short story (with the caveat that there are hundreds of more recent Irish short story writers to choose from of course).  And it started off with Wilde’s wit with the king’s courtiers needing Etiquette lessons because most of them still had natural manners–a very grave offense.

But then, good lord, this story dragged on so torturously.

A 16 year old lad is named to be the next king.  He was raised by goatherds so he is blown away by the sumptuousness of the castle.  But, as is the case with children’s stories, of which this is apparently one, he has three bad dreams.

Long dreams.  Elaborately detailed and yet rather tedious dreams. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: August 2021] Secrets of Camp Whatever

I’m not sure who brought this book home, my wife or my daughter, but I was pretty delighted to read it.

Two kids are heading to the town of Nowhere with their parents. They are moving into their father’s mother’s old house on the outskirts of town.  It’s a small town and when they pull into the local diner, the waitress tells them to turn around and go back home… that place is haunted.  But the local museum owner, Henry Person, tells them not to believe that nonsense.

He says that Nowhere is known for unusual things–monsters in the lakes, elves in the forest, even a bigfoot sighting.  But the fog is so thick no one can confirm anything.

Willow is going to summer camp and is not particularly pleased about it.  Her younger brother Gryphon is not going to camp, but he really wants to.  Where’s the justice?  When their mother hears about the fog and the creepiness around the camp she wonders whether they should even send WIllow.

But the kids’ dad when to Camp … Whatever like a million years ago and he is pretty excited for Willow to go.  He can’t wait for her to hear all about the camp at the opening campfire.  Even if a kid did go missing the year he was there… and was never heard from again.

But Mr Person says the camp hired a new camp director … Clarence Tooter, a big game hunter.  He’ll keep the place safe.

A nice touch is that Willow uses a hearing aid, but it’s not a big deal to the story.    Except that Mr Tooter believes she is deaf and so he yells at here whenever he sees her.  And that sign language is very important to the story (although the reader doesn’t need to know it). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: July 2021] Katie and the Catsitter

I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Colleen AF Venable.  This is her first middle grade graphic novel.  And it is fantastic.

So much fun and so much going on!

The artwork is by Stephanie Yue who also drew her Guinea P.I. books and it is a perfect match.

In this story Katie is a little bummed because her friends are going off to summer camp and she can’t afford to go.  She puts up a sign in her apartment offering her services, but she finds that she’s really not very good at anything (she can’t lift heavy groceries, she kills plants).  Finally, she asks if she can work for the bodega owner downstairs.  He loves Katie, but she is too young.  He offers her a consolation lunch of “baby kale, blue cheese, craisins… those are basically candy.”  But all she wants is a PBnJ.

It’s all pretty normal.

Except that in this world there are superheroes and super villains.  The most famous superhero right now is The Eastern Screech, a guy whop dresses like an owl. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMBINAI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #234 (July 09, 2021).

Why oh why oh why do all the best Tiny Desk Concerts have to be so short?

This show is AMAZING and it’s only 12 minutes long.  Meanwhile, some other bands have dragged theirs out for almost twice as long.  Alas.

I was introduced to JAMBINAI (like many others I’m sure) at the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea.  Their set was spectacular and it blew me away.  In reality, the band is much smaller than that spectacle produced, but their sound is still huge and intense.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “fierce” to describe a Tiny Desk, but that’s precisely what JAMBINAI has created in this (home) concert. The show begins in front of a massive recreation of my desk and what happens next … well, no spoilers here. Filmed in an immersive media art museum created by an organization known as d’strict on Jeju Island, this Korean band contains multitudes.

JAMBINAI plays traditional Korean instruments, but adds rock guitars and bass.

At its heart, JAMBINAI’s music mixes elements of metal, noise and Korean tradition. There’s full-on distorted guitar, bass and drums, but also a haegeum (a fiddle-like instrument), a piri (a type of flute), a taepyeongso (a reed instrument) and a most appropriately named instrument, a geomungo (a giant Korean zither). We also hear some delicate vocals in the mix.

The two pieces performed here include 2015’s “Time of Extinction” and the more recent and epic “ONDA.”

“Time Of Extinction” is the song they played at the Olympic and while it’s only three minutes long it feels epic and really encompasses their sound.  It opens with a plucked geomungo creating the simple riff.  After 20 second Ilwoo Lee plays a feedbacking guitar note and then Jaehyuk Choi comes crashing in on the drums.  At the same time, the visuals blow your mind.

The basis of the song is Eunyong Sim’ geomungo rhythm and Bomi Kim’s keening haegeum solo.  The guitars add a terrific tension to the basic melody.  In the middle of the song when it’s just drum and Byeongkoo Yu’s bass playing, the thumping is broken by the fully distorted guitar You don’t expect Ilwoo Lee to bust out a taepyeongso and play a traditional and rather discordant horn solo on top.  Just when it seems the song is about to launch to a new direction it’s over.  Just like that.

There is something so unearthly about the geomungo–it’s percussive and stringed and you can feel it rumble and thump ta the same time

“ONDA” is 8 minutes long and opens with Ilwoo Lee playing a saenghwang an amazing looking wind instrument that I cant quite fathom.  He plays a terrific sounding melody with it –almost patronal. Except for the low electronic chords underneath it

Then comes the rumble–the thundering drums and bass and a fast repetition from the geomungo.

Then Bomi Kim sings a gentle, calming echoing vocal line that sound magical under the rumble. After a verse of so Ilwoo Lee joins in on harmony vocals and they sound terrific together.

The song builds in intensity, as lwoo Lee adds the guitar, then it pulls back as Lee plays a piri solo that becomes a call and response with the haegeum.

There’s a wild jamming solo section that grows super intense.  The way it builds to a climax and is followed by huge crashing chords (and great visuals) is monumental.  Everyone joins in singing for the last minute as the melody soars and soars.

Maybe 12 minutes is all we can handle.

[READ: July 1, 2021] The Whispering Wars

This book is related to The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone in that it is set in the same land (The Land of Kingdoms and Empires).  But it is set some thirty years before the adventures of that book.  Through some magic (this is a magical land), we do see Bronte briefly. but if she ever starts to give way anything about the future, she is instantly sent back to where she came from.

In the first book we are aware of the Whispering Wars as being a big event in the past.  This book explains how they started.

This book is told by two (sometimes three) alternating narrators.  There is Finlay, who lives at the orphanage and Honey Bee who lives at the fancy Brathelthwaite school.

How they wind up alternating chapters isn’t explained until much later, which I rather enjoyed (both the delay and the explanation).

As the book opens, Finlay explains that it is time for the annual Spindrift (the town where they live) tournament.  The kids at the orphanage looks forward to this event because they can show up the rich kids.  Finlay is a super fast runner, as is his friend Glim.  The twins Eli and Taya aren’t super fast but they are very strong and good with their hands (and can multitask like nobody’s business).  There’s also Jaskafar, a tiny boy who sleeps on top of the wardrobe–his storyline is very funny until he is the first Orphan to be taken. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARRTOONS, KAELIN ELLIS, KIEFER AND THE KOUNT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #229 (June 28, 2021).

This is one of the more unusual Tiny Desk Concerts that I’ve seen.  Essentially the NPR team asked these musicians to make remixes of NPR theme music.  I haven’t heard of any of the musicians before, but I gather they are well known and regarded.

Over the past year and some change, beatmakers Carrtoons, Kaelin Ellis, Kiefer, and The Kount took to social media individually and often collaboratively to cook up productions, often resulting in viral moments and never-seen-before glimpses into their creative process.  As we continue to celebrate 50 years of NPR, Tiny Desk was determined to take part. To honor the iconic themes from our news programs, we asked these four producers to come up with their own spin on the All Things Considered theme (written by Don Voegeli) the Morning Edition theme and the theme for Weekend Edition (both written by B.J. Leiderman).

The blurb describes them as beatmakers. I don’t know what that means exactly (in my mind it has nothing to do with instruments), but for this set, each guy plays an instrument or two.  Clockwise from the bottom left Kaelin Ellis: drums, The Kount: percussion, Kiefer: piano, keyboards and Carrtoons: bass.

Most of the themes are under 30 seconds, so it’s interesting to hear them stretched out.  It’s also interesting that they didn’t simply play the theme and them jam it.  each one uses a part of the theme, but the songs go in very different directions.  The addition of bass and drums certainly changes the sound, as does their new jazzier feel.

“All Things Considered (Remix by Carrtoons)” Kiefer plays a variant of the original (quite similar) and then plays a kind of staccato piano like the news urgency music.  I like the way those original eight notes keep returning.   This new song is all of 1 minute long.

“Morning Edition (Remix by Kaelin Ellis)”  This one sounds really different with an intro (lots of bass and drums).  It’s not until the middle that the jazzy chords reveal themselves as the Morning Edition melody.  I feel like you can’t hear all that much percussion on these tracks although the bongos are audible here.  and I like the little cymbals near the end.  This song is about two minutes,

“Weekend Edition (Remix by Kiefer)” I like that this one opens with that iconic ascending melody, but dissipates smoothly.  It’s also interesting that the middle melody is still there, only stretched out. Kaelin’s drums are pretty great on this track and Carrtoons’ bass is pivotal throughout.

[READ: June 1, 2021] The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

S. read book three in this series, not realizing it was book 3.  She then read the books in reverse order, ending with this one.

Well, I decided to read them in the correct order.  And while I haven’t read 2 or 3 yet, book 1 was fantastic.   I loved everything about this book–the plot, the illustrations and especially the writing style

Jaclyn Moriarty has created a hilarious and thoughtful young narrator and the ways in which she has to deal with adults makes for some very funny scenes indeed.

The premise is that Bronte Mettlestone is ten years old and has just found out that her parents were killed by pirates. She’s not really that upset though because she never knew them.  They abandoned her at the doorstep of an aunt when she was just a baby.  They were adventurers and couldn’t be tied down by a child.

The humor comes right away, with the announcement that Bronte’s parents were killed.  They receive a telegram which says that they were “taken out by cannon fire.” Aunt Isabelle is furious about that phrase.  Could they not have chosen a less flippant turn of phrase?

So Bronte was raised by her aunt Isabelle with help from The Butler.  They see that her parents will says that Bronte must take a series of trips, by herself to visit all of her other aunts and give them each a present (the present is included with the will).  The details of the trip are spelled out in very specific detail–how long she is to stay with each Aunt and how to get from one to the next.  To make things worse, the will has been sealed wit faery stitching, which means if she doesn’t do what the will says, there will be terrible consequences.  Essentially Bronte must follow these rules exactly or OR PEOPLE COULD DIE!

So obviously this is world where magic exists, although Bronte herself has had little exposure to magic.  She says the only thing she knows about magic comes from the book The History of the Kingdoms and Empires.

There are two types of magic that are worked by thread.  There was bright thread which was used by True Mages like Faeries and elves and water sprites.  Then there was shadow thread used by dark Mages like witches and Sterling Silver Foxes.  The third kind was binding thread which Spellbinders used to stop Shadow Magic from doing its work. Initially the thread was real, but now they can do their magic with imaginary thread.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROTHERS OSBORNE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #215 (May 26, 2021).

If Brothers Osborne were an instrumental band I’d really like them. Lead guitarist John Osborne is an amazing player whose riffs are amazing and even though they sound pretty country, he’s amazing to watch.

But when T.J. Osborne starts singing, you understand why they wear cowboy hats.

For their Tiny Desk (home) concert… Brothers Osborne–a country duo that’s long challenged the conventions of country and still managed to top the charts–scale to fit the setting – John’s wood-panelled Nashville living room furnished with plenty of guitars and a tiny desk featuring a Maryland flag mug – but refuse to dial down the intensity.

They open with “Muskrat Greene,” the instrumental that is so impressive.  T.J.’s guitar licks are flying, Adam Box’s drums keep a tight martial pace (and the drum sound is fantastic) and the song never lets up.  I love the backwards guitar part in the middle along with some cool keyboard soloing from Gabe Dixon.

Opening with the explosive instrumental track “Muskrat Greene,” Brothers Osborne and their collaborators use their set to showcase the very best of Skeletons. As on the record, they transition immediately into “Dead Man’s Curve,” a track that’s the ideal interplay between John’s fiery guitar and T.J.’s singular vocal stylings.

After two and a half minutes they segue into “Dead Man’s Curve” which sounds like a pretty great rockin’ roots song.  The main riff after the chorus is spectacular and T.J.’s solo smokes.  I’d like to hear it with different vocals.

“I’m Not for Everyone” is where the set falters for me.  It is such a standard country song–anthemic and familiar–I’m sure it sounds exactly like some other country song.  I might enjoy it more as a cover because the lyrics are pretty funny (country music self-deprecation).  The addition of “local legend” Matt Heasley on accordion is a nice touch.

“Skeletons” opens with some muted acoustic guitar from T.J. and some nice slide guitar work from Jason Graumlich.  Once again, if this song didn’t feel so “country” I would really like it.  Musically it’s solid (John gets another great solo) and lyrically it’s quite clever.  I just don’t like the vocal style.  When I imagine Richard Thompson singing it, I like it a lot better.

“Hatin’ Somebody” (never got nobody nowhere) ends the set with more clever lyrics.  This time John uses the slide for some more great guitar work.  The song has a fun riff and Pete Sternberg’s bass keeps the low end solid.  But the song is just too country for me.

I do appreciate how much fun they are having though.

[READ: June 1, 2021] Spy School

I read Gibbs’ Charlie Thorne books recently and really enjoyed them, so I thought it would be fun to check out his earlier series Spy School (which C. had read a few years ago and really liked).

This story had the same kind of clever wit as the Charlie Thorne books, which I greatly appreciated.  It was also a pretty exciting story.

It starts in the middle of nowhere.  Well, actually in the middle of Ben Ripley’s house.  Where, out of nowhere, a Federal agent has just told him that he has been accepted into spy school.  They’ve had their eyes on him for a while. He did wonderfully on the STIQ exams.  What are they?  He doesn’t remember taking them.

Standardized Test Inserted Questions.  The CIA places them in every standardized test to asses potential espionage aptitude.  You’ve gotten every one right since third grade.

So that’s pretty wild.  Of course everything about Spy school is secret so he can’t even tell his parents or his best friend. They al think he’s going to a super brainy nerdy math school (Ben is a super brainy math nerd after all).

The agent, Alexander Hale, is so cool, Ben can’t wait to hang out with him.  But when Alexander drops him off at school things are not good.  The whole school is under red alert–there seems to have been a security breach.  And Ben is now a target.  Why? because even the enemy has heard about him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KAROL G-Tiny Desk (Home) Conert #216 (May 27, 2021).

I’m always amazed when a musician is described as a superstar but I’ve never heard of her.  Well, Karol G. is a reggaeton superstar and it makes sense that I’ve never heard of her since I’m not even really sure what reggeton is.  This set doesn’t really clarify that for me because this just sounds like great pop music and indeed: 

Colombian reggaetonera Karol G floats between styles on this wistful Miami set with the breeziness of a pop star who knows no boundaries – or maybe it’s the calculus of an artist who has built a career on subverting them. Her personal, unapologetic flourish has allowed her to top the Billboard charts of a genre with limited female participation, and even less superstardom.

It was pretty cool to see that Karol G.’s band was all women (even if some of them look like they’re still in high school, they are all great).  

Her signature bichota energy is subtle, yet pervasive in her stripped-down Tiny Desk (home) concert. Flanked by an illuminated all-women band, Karol G’s authentic command of the intimate moment and its intended audience is unmistakable. 

She plays three (or four) songs. 

She deftly moves from a ballad-like rendition of urbano mash-up “Créeme/A Ella.”

She has a lovely voice with wonderful flow.  Then Guillana Merello starts thumping the floor toms to kick the song off and then she looks so very happy once he main part starts.  Sus Vazquez plays interesting chord shapes high up the neck while Anastasiia Zaichenko plays a bouncy bass. Sus plays a series of pretty chords and things slow down as the song shifts to “A Ella” with soft keyboard washes from Bryan Bliska.

to a soulful performance of trap corrido “200 COPAS” (her proclaimed favorite song at the moment) with Mexican Regional cariño Danny Felix.

Felix plays some great acoustic melodies on the 12 string and the song has a very Mexican/Puerto Rican feel.

She speaks a lot between songs although I have no idea what she’s saying.

Closing with a first-ever live performance of the dreamy duet “CONTIGO VOY A MUERTE,” she marks the end of the concert with a nod to her roots. Intertwined with fellow Colombiano Camilo, Karol G expresses gratitude and pride.

You have to check out Camilo’s mustache!  And the fact that his voice is actually higher than hers.  The songs tarts with some gentle guitars and keys as Camilo sings.

[READ: June 19, 2021] My Mommy Medicine

I’ve read a lot of short stories by Edwidge Danticat, but I had no idea she wrote a children’s book (with lovely illustrations from Shannon Wright).

The story is pretty simple.  In the author’s note, she says that she is a mom to two daughters and whenever they were sick she would lavish them with “mommy medicine.”

In the book there’s one little girl and she knows she can count on her Mommy medicine. (more…)

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