Friday, April 24, 2015

Every Picture Tells a Story...and Guys Do Read!

Look What's New in Children's Books:

Wordless books hold a special place for children in early literacy and in early writing.  By "reading" a wordless book with a young child you open their imagination to the description and allow them to use their own words, building their vocabulary.  For older children just exploring the idea of putting words to page, a wordless book can spark a creative project. 

The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee, is a new title that wordlessly illustrates the relationship of a little clown who falls from a passing train and the lonely farmer who brings him home. Muted tones perfectly capture the wide, open prairie and without a word it is easy to see the friendship that develops.

Jerry Pinkney is a Caldecott medalist whose detailed illustrations fill many pages of well known children's titles. The Grasshopper and the Ants is the third in a series of Aesop's fables following The Lion and the Mouse and The Tortoise and the Hare. Pinkney brings these tales to life with his beautiful, detailed paintings and few words.
In this fable the lively grasshopper is always ready with a song and some fun while the ants are busy preparing for winter.  Be sure to find the pages with the ants underground and the grasshopper, outside in the snow.  

The next title, Sequoia, honors Arbor Day and Poetry Month, with words by Tony Johnston and paintings by Wendell Minor.  Simple verse gives life to this great tree and follows it throughout the year.  Additional information on the tree is given at the end with thanks to Stephen C. Sillett and Marie E. Antoine of Humboldt State University, researchers whose photos were used by the artist for illustrations.

Tall trees inspire tall structures and engineers are constantly trying to top the tallest buildings around the world.  In 1889 the Eiffel Tower was the world's tallest building.  George Ferris, a mechanical engineer from Pittsburgh, was determined to build a taller structure for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  Mr. Ferris and His Wheel tells the story of this project and its success.  

Sidebars give details to the project and the new inventions of the time, including the use of electricity. Read this book and imagine the excitement as a new century was about to begin.

Yes, guys do read!

Often a short story is all you need, if time is limited or you don't want to get into a longer novel. Jon Scieszka is well know know for his earlier picture books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, the Time Warp Trio series for older readers, and the beginning reader Trucktown series.  

Scieszka has championed reluctant readers with an emphasis on boys on his website Guys Read. He is now editing a series of books that collect short stories by well known authors, including  M.T. Anderson, Walter Dean Myers, Anthony Horowitz, Steve Sheinkin and Candace Fleming, to name a few.

These collections follow a theme, beginning with "Funny Business" and as the title implies it is loaded with stories that will keep you laughing.  "Thriller" is the second volume and includes tales of mystery and suspense. Volume 5, "True Stories" brings non-fiction to life with biographies, essays, travel stories and more by some of the best authors for youth. 

Pick one up and check out the website for links to Jon Scieszka's bio, his blog, and reviews of more great books.

Friday, April 17, 2015

How to Stay in Twin Peaks: Go to the Library

Last week, Natalie mentioned the "dreamlike, earnest young people" and "seemingly ordinary settings" in the work of filmmaker David Lynch, just in time for Richmond's very own Twin Peaks festival, The Great Southern. The festival, organized by Movie Club Richmond, the Video Fan, and Makeout Creek Books, celebrates David Lynch's first foray into television, Twin Peaks, a serial drama that burst into pop culture in 1990 and has only grown in popularity since, its mysteries deepening in the minds of fans new and old.

Set in a small town in Washington state, Twin Peaks centers ostensibly on the murder of teenage Laura Palmer but spirals out to explore teen-dom in general, Americana, the perks and perils of the unconscious, and the nature of evil. Beginning last night in Carytown and ending late Sunday, The Great Southern will move across seemingly ordinary Richmond with performances, visits from actors and authors, a midnight screening, a costume party, and more. If you find yourself still hankering for Twin Peaks after the festival, or just want to whet your appetite for the first time, simply walk into the library and have the reference librarian point you in the direction of these topics:
Peyton Place
First a novel, and then a film, and then even a few television series, Peyton Place aims, like Twin Peaks, to reveal the lives of those who live in small town U.S.A., up to and including the things that no one likes to talk about. Lynch screened the 1957 film Peyton Place for his co-creator Mark Frost in the early development of Twin Peaks. It is a natural touchstone for any piece of pop culture that deals with small town life, and informs the sense of Twin Peaks as soap opera. It also starred Russ Tamblyn, later featured in Twin Peaks.
Film Noir
Lynch and Frost did not look only at depictions of suburban America before making Twin Peaks. The ultra-urban aesthetic of film noir heavily influenced the show. In many ways Twin Peaks is a soap opera film noir, or a film noir soap opera, or both. Coined by French critics, "film noir" refers traditionally to Hollywood crime films made just before and after the second World War. The films, like Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, portray a fatalistic, morally ambiguous reality. And as in Twin Peaks, little elements in the film--objects, types of characters--are repeated until they take on a meaning and a grammar all their own.
Surrealism and Dreams
Juxtaposing the tropes of urban film noir with suburban America would be a classically surrealist move, and Lynch is often referred to as a surrealist. In surrealist works of art, the rational mind is downplayed in favor or unexpected connections and bizarre twists. There is a logic to surrealist art, but it's a dream logic. In Twin Peaks, Special Agent Dale Cooper looks especially to dreams to help him solve his cases. Look for Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto for background and check out a few dream dictionaries to see if your unconscious has been planting clues.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Read-alikes* for movie lovers

*That's librarian-ese for recommending books one might also like based upon their favorites. For another fine piece of reader's advisory I recommend this article from Bustle: "14 Books from Wes Anderson movies we wish were real", complete with real life read-alikes! I too wish I could read all the fake books from Wes Anderson movies.

Since I wrote recently about books I wished were movies, I thought I would take this week to mention movies I wish I could read as books. Have you ever experienced that? The feeling that a movie was so amazing that surely it must be a really great book, too? And then searching for the book only to discover that it was not inspired by one at all?
(You know, sometimes it's hard to come up with good blog themes week after week. Coming soon: "Novels about Ikea I read in the past year". There were several.)
Here's a list of books to keep you busy reading while you wait for the movie to start:

Speaking of Wes Anderson...

Fans of Wes Anderson's films will find a lot to love in Bellweather Rhapsody, a darkly funny charmer about a haunted old hotel, a music competition, thwarted promise, ambition, and young love. This is the kind of book you'll want to create a mix-tape soundtrack for. I think there might even be a role for Bill Murray in this murky, quirky tale of teenage musicians.

If the hilarious adventures of neurotic, hapless romantic male protagonists like those in Woody Allen's films appeal to you, you are sure to love the books of Jonathan Ames. Both writers understand well that there is humor to be found in pain.
How about The Babadook! This limited release Australian import about a boy and his mother getting wrapped up in a demented picture book was totally terrifying. As a lifelong devotee to the genre I can say that truly good, really scary horror films are rare. But when they do get to you with more than cheap startles and shaky cameras, or senseless splatter, when they really manage to get under your skin and follow you home, make you turn on every light in the house and look under the beds? That's what keeps horror fans coming back. A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans is a super creepy psychological thriller about a new father afraid to hold his newborn son that hits a lot of the same haunting notes as The Babadook. A Turn of the Screw by Henry James will also get your creepy kid thrill on, if in a more proper late-Victorian English nanny story gone horribly awry kind of way. Highly recommended for folks who get that sometimes kids can be creepy.

Haruki Murakami and David Lynch both have great taste in music and a fondness for showing us dreamlike, earnest young people caught up in the surreal and nightmarish underbellies of seemingly ordinary settings. Anybody with a healthy fear and suspicion of bucolic small towns and suburban landscapes will surely enjoy both.
This scene? With the beetles?! Totally Murakami.

More Bill Murray! In Broken Flowers, aging Don Johnston tracks down his former lovers after he gets an anonymous letter claiming that he has a son.  In F: a novel, Arthur Friedland suddenly abandons his three young sons after taking them to see a hypnotist. The boys each grow up to be frauds in their own ways and struggle with their father's attempts to reconnect. Both works focus on the relationship between fathers and sons. Lovingly translated from the original German by Carol Janeway, F is not to be missed.

Both are adventure tales involving archaeology and obsession; Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark fans will get completely sucked into the The Lost City of Z, "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century".

Careful with that, dude. It's cursed.

It Follows just opened and is getting some rave reviews probably because, as I mentioned above, excellent horror movies are surprising. Dire consequence is stalking teenagers in It Follows, and a nasty STD stalks teenagers in Black Hole, a graphic novel by Charles Burns, turning them into genetic mutants.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Books about to be movies, books I wish were movies (but aren't), and a few movies that just didn't get the book right

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think the book is always better than the movie, and those who didn't read the book. I love movies. I love them almost as much as I love books, so it is always thrilling to find out that a favorite book will be coming to a theater near me. So often the adaptations are disappointing though. If only David Fincher could adapt ALL my favorite books to films. Imagine Lauren Beukes' genre bending sci-fi noir thrillers set against her haunting backdrops of Midwestern urban decay done by the director of good books to great movies such as Gone Girl, Fight Club, and The Social Network.

A few books I would love to see adapted to film:

The psychological thriller A Pleasure and a Calling

How perfect would Phil Hogan's prim and proper vigilante sociopath/real estate agent (with the keys to everybody's house) be if played by Jude Law? Or maybe Joseph Fiennes? Definitely Joseph Fiennes.

They would probably end up casting James Franco and spinning it as a screwball hi-jinx comedy though.

The Tusk That Did the Damage byTania James

This book is a strong contender for my "favorite book of 2015" and it's only March. Complicated, graphic and intense, James' second novel is the story of Gravedigger, a vengeful elephant, and Dr. Ravi Varma, a man dedicated to reuniting abandoned elephant calves with their mothers and rescuing orphaned elephants, told through the alternating narratives of a two-person American documentary film crew, a poacher's brother, and Gravedigger. Check out a review here. And go read the book! Here's hoping for a CGI elephant that will do this book justice someday.

A few more from my wish list in brief: Zone One by Colson Whitehead, Night Film by Marissha Pessl, How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller all need to be movies NOW please.

Now for the failures:
This is Where I Leave You, the movie version of Jonathan Tropper's hysterically funny and deeply touching portrayal of a family at odds sitting shiva for their deceased father was a massive disappointment for me. The cast was so promising too! Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Adam Driver, in the right director's hands, should have been perfect as the siblings. But they just weren't. Most of the actual humor in the book was completely ignored, and the tenderness felt maudlin and insincere. Maybe if I hadn't read the book I could have enjoyed the film? I suppose that sometimes a book is just too good in your own head to see it cast in another person's vision.

And I defy anyone who read Max Brooks' World War Z to say they liked that ridiculous film. I imagined it as the slightly tongue in cheek History Channel style reenactment program with oral history that it was in the book. What a perfect response to the excess of zombie zeitgeist and cable television history programming that would have been! Instead, Brad Pitt got in there and made it into piles of fast running CGI corpses and ludicrous action sequences. Where was the Otaku narrative? The Queen of England's touching story? Madness.

Anyway, get ready to feel superior to everyone else in the theater for having already read these books BEFORE you see the movie this year:

Are you as excited as I am that The Martian by Andy Weir is going to be a movie starring MATT DAMON and directed by RIDLEY SCOTT this year?


And Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is also going to be a movie? 

And Dark Places, my favorite of Gillian Flynn's novels, will be starring Charlize Theron?

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers as a movie?! I loved that book!
But with Tom Hanks? 

Sigh. I don't know about that. Tom Hanks apparently has some kind of deal going with Dave Eggers. It has been reported that he will also be producing a film version of The Circle. No word yet on Your Fathers, Where are They [...etc] but I have my fingers crossed for that one.

Also hitting the big screen this year:

Into the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick directed by Ron Howard will be in theaters this December.

Serena by Ron Rash will be released (apparently this weekend) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, so that should be pretty good, right?

Classics Madame Bovary will star Mia Wasikowska this Summer, and Frankenstein will inexplicably feature Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (of the regrettable Horns) as Igor, Viktor F's assistant. Really?
True Story Starring Jonah Hill and the guy who is in everything, James Franco will be out soonish. I just saw a trailer for this and it actually looks really good.

The insanely popular Me Before You by Jojo Moyes will be out this year and The Longest Ride, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, is on its way this April.

Of course Tim Burton is directing the adaptation of Ransom Riggs' creepy YA novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children!

I am also pleased to report that allegedly Richard Linklater, of the (go ahead and hate me for saying) DISAPPOINTING Boyhood fame, among other, better films, will be handling one of my recent favorites, Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette. That one could go either way.

And who's ready for the inevitable continuation of 4 OR 5 different teen dystopian novel adaptations in theaters this summer? DIVERGENT HUNGER MAZES PART X?!

See you at the movies!