Today I Read… My Dad Used to Be So Cool 

Image result for my dad used to be coolToday I Read My Dad Used to Be So Cool written and illustrated by Keith Negley.

My dad used to be so cool. He was in a band! And he had a motorcycle and tattoos and I bet he had so much fun. Now all he does laundry, and he vacuums, and he ties my shoelaces, and he takes me to the park. I wonder what happened?

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I found this picture book at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May (yes, I think it’s obvious that I’m behind on posting). The author also wrote Tough Guys Have Feelings Too, which I also really liked, about how men in stereotypical male jobs like superheroes and firefighters have emotions that they can express. However, since I saw these before Father’s Day, obviously I had to get copies to troll my brothers in law.

This is a cute picture book, all about the kid musing on how his dad used to be a really cool rock star, and he doesn’t understand what changed to make his dad so boring. Through the art, we see dad taking care of his son and the home. The drum set is in the closet, the skateboard is on the wall, the motorcycle is for sale. We also see a big pull out spread of Kid and Dad playing at the park, chasing each other all over the playground, and then finally wading out into the water together. Maybe dad is still a little bit cool. But then he rocks out in the car,  which is SO EMBARRASSING! This is a nice representation of dad being perfectly  competent at taking care of his home and child, and showing that dad may still have tattoo sleeves from when he was younger but they have no bearing on his ability to nurture. It’s a nice demonstration of a step away from traditional gender roles, showing a more modern family. We don’t know if he’s a single dad, or if mom is away at work, or if there’s a second dad away at work, or what the rest of the family looks like, and it doesn’t matter. Dads do not always have to be the incompetent buffoon whose mistakes mom has to fix, and they don’t have to be the one who can fix your bike but not your sandwich, and it’s nice to see that sometimes.

Still gonna troll my brothers in law and tell them they can remind my nieces and nephew of when their dads used to be cool though. After all, what else is family for?

Today I Read…My First Book of Girl Power and Batman’s Hero Files

my-first-book-of-girl-powerToday I read My First Book of Girl Power and DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files by Billy Wrecks, illustrated by Erik Doescher.

Girls are strong and smart and brave and kind. They can be heroes! Come and learn about some of the DC Super Heroines.

And: Batman likes to know everything. He keeps files on all of the Super Friends and their special Super Powers. Let’s read his files together!

Tiny Niece has started to like Superman and Batman, and as her Nerdy Auntie I feel it is my duty to encourage this. Especially Superman, who is better than Batman. But as her Feminist Nerdy Auntie, I really want her to know some of the female super heroes–Batgirl and Supergirl and Wonder Woman, who don’t have the same overwhelming amount of merchandise as the boys do. I deliberately went looking for some books featuring the female super heroes (and maybe bought some of the DC Super Hero Girls dolls, which are pretty cute and bend better than Barbie). But books with the girl heroes are actually pretty hard to find. There was one book I looked at that had 4 stories about Marvel’s Avengers, and in those 4 stories the only female character mentioned by name was Pepper Potts. And she had to be rescued. And there was one drawing of a random female bystander who also had to be rescued. Now, there have been tons of female Avengers over the years, and even the movies have Black Widow (although not my Black Widow movie, I wants it, I wants it, where is my Black Widow movie?!?) But there is nary a girl to be found in the board books and early readers I was looking at, at Chapters and the independent comic store. And as much as I enjoy the DC Super Hero Girls, it’s really aimed at an older age group than my Tiny Niece, who is just turning 4. The rare books that do include a girl hero, the ratio is usually about 1 girl character for every 5-6 boy characters. I wanted a book with a fair ratio of girl to boy characters. I ended up getting this book, which is only about girl heroes, and an early reader DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files. That one has Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, with Wonder Woman and Batgirl (Supergirl not included). And there are at least pictures of Catwoman and Cheetah, though none of the villains are named.

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They’re both good books, which describe the various hero’s powers. Girl Power is a board book, and it only has a maximum of about 3 sentences per page. The language is fairly advanced, and it’s more for an adult to read to a child. Batman’s Hero Files is a reader, intended for children who are learning to read on their own, so it uses basic vocabulary and short sentences, although I’m not sure who decided ‘indestructible’ is basic vocabulary. And I do like that Girl Power emphasizes that being smart and brave and kind are qualities as worthy of praise as being strong. Hawkgirl is posed with her mace, but her description talks about her healing abilities. Batgirl likes to read books and program computers. Mera likes to explore new places. It would be nice if they included some heroines of colour–at least Batman’s Hero Files feature a black Green Lantern and Cyborg, but I guess I’ll have to be happy with baby steps of representation.

So yes, I absolutely have an agenda regarding promoting super heroes to Tiny Niece. I love superheroes. I love stories about people who try to save the world. But I want Tiny Niece to grow up to realize that she can be a superhero too, and not have to always be rescued.

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Today I Read…Toot and No No Yes Yes

Today I read No No Yes Yes and Toot, written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. She is the same artist who illustrated the Mini Myths books by Joan Holub, which my Tiny Niece adores, so I was really interested in checking out her writing as well. These two in particular are going to be part of the Christmas present for Tiny Niece and her younger brother Giant Nephew.

Normally I summarize books in these reviews, but the titles pretty much summarize them for me. Toot is about, well, tooting. Because fart jokes are hilarious to the under 5 crowd. I fully anticipate this will be a big hit with the kids when I pull it out and read it to them on Christmas Day. Their parents may be somewhat less thrilled, but hey, isn’t the point of gifts for your nieces and nephews to annoy your siblings? I’m pretty sure that’s the purpose of noisy battery-driven toys. And while this book isn’t battery operated, it does provide the chance to make sound effects. Toot! In all seriousness, it is also good for normalizing bodily functions, and it does point out that everybody toots, even mommies and daddies and doggies. Though there is still some question about whether Fishy toots.

No No Yes Yes straddles that fine line between providing useful instruction and giving kids bad ideas. I’m sure that the scenarios in the book will all be very familiar to anyone with a toddler in their life. The language is as simple as possible, and can be used for teaching opposites as well as proper behaviour. For each double-page spread, one page is a ‘no no’ activity, like drawing on the walls, pulling kitty’s tail, and putting your toys in the potty. The opposing page has a corresponding ‘yes yes’ acceptable activity, like drawing on paper, petting kitty nicely, and pooping in the potty. Hey, toilet jokes are the next step up from fart jokes. Since Giant Nephew just hit the Terrible Twos, I’m hoping that this book might help a bit, especially the “no no” page for hitting other kids with a toy hammer. Even if it does make a funny “thunk!” sound.

I love the illustration style, simple and bright, with the same non-gendered protagonist. These two are my favourites, but Patricelli has a whole series of board books. Here’s hoping that Giant Nephew loves them as much as Tiny Niece loved Play Nice Hercules and Be Patient Pandora. Well, maybe not quite so much, reading the same book 6 times in a row is enough, right? Right? Tiny Niece, can Auntie read a different books ye–no, no she can’t. Ok sweetie.

Today I Read…Here Come Destructosaurus!

Here Comes DestructosaurusToday I read Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Jeremy Tankard.

Destructosaurus! What a naughty monster you’re being today! Stop destroying the city and terrifying the people at once, or someone’s going to have a very sore tail!

Why is Destructosaurus rampaging through the city? Find out in this hilarious picture book that will sound very familiar to the parents of any toddler who has monster-sized tantrums.

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I found this one at my local public library, and I knew I wanted to write about it. This clever and colourful reimagining of Godzilla frames the terrible legendary monster as a toddler having a temper tantrum, and is told from the perspective of the frustrated and impatient. but ultimately well-meaning, adult civilian.

I love the satire, and my Tiny Niece is well into her Terrible Twos, so I can definitely sympathize with the Narrator and their efforts to get Destructosaurus to be a good monster. I may call Tiny Niece a Destructosaurus the next time she hears “Time to clean up and go home!” and interprets it as “Let’s empty the toy box all over the floor and run away so Auntie can’t put my shoes on!” Still, I think I’d hold off on reading it to her, despite the wonderful illustrations. She’s a little too young to understand the story. This book would be perfect for a teacher talking about appropriate behaviour and how to deal with frustration, and why parents sometimes get angry with what you’ve done.

I also really like that the Narrator apologizes for yelling and getting frustrated when they find out what Destructosaurus wanted. It shows that both of them were in the wrong–Destructosaurus should have used his words instead of destroying the city, but the Narrator should have asked what  wrong instead of just yelling.

Destructosaurus does have a reason for destroying the city, but I won’t spoil it here–go read the book to find out! The Narrator uses the usual phrases frustrated parents use and weaves them into the tale of destruction, such as “Don’t you take that tone with me, Destructosaurus! Whatever you’re saying must seem awfully important to you, but I could do without the attitude. Besides, everyone here is a little busy at the moment. Screaming. And running away. And stockpiling bottled water.” Or “What do you think you are doing, Destructosaurus? Stop throwing around buildings that don’t belong to you. You’ve been brought up better than that, you naughty monster! Look with your eyes, not with your claws.”

Jeremy Tankard does a wonderful job of making Destructosaurus an adorable ball of fire-breathing tantrum. The illustrations are large and bright, and a wonderfully child-like version of the classic Godzilla movies, complete with helicopters and biplanes trying to corral Destructosaurus.

I’d recommend this book for more like a kindergarten-grade 1 audience. Or for the annoyed parent of a toddler who will definitely recognize themself in the harassed Narrator dealing with a real monster having a bad day.

 

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Today I Read…The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma

The Cat, the Dog, Little RedToday I read The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma by Diane and Christyan Fox.

Cat is trying to tell Dog the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but Dog has a lot of questions. Like, if Little Red wears a cape, what’s her superpower? Why doesn’t Little Red know the difference between her grandmother and a wolf? And do the eggs in her basket explode so she can use them to fight crime?

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I loved this one when I saw it at a publishers’ sale for librarians, and I instantly bought it for my school library. I really enjoyed doing this one as a read-aloud. I always did storytime by myself, but this book could be a great performance story for two storytellers, since Cat and Dog each have their own lines. Alternatively, you can just use different voices if you’re reading it by yourself.

This book is really better for kids who already know the basic version of Little Red Riding Hood, since it’s a retelling and it can get confusing for kids who don’t know the common story. Most kids do know it, so for kindergarten and above you can just ask them “Do you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Well, this is kind of like that.” I didn’t have the time to read the original and the retelling during my storytime periods, so just the reminder was fine, but if you have more time than you can certainly do a themed storytime and read different versions. It’s also a good interrupting story, so as the storyteller you can use Dog as a model of how not to behave when someone is telling you a story, and show why Cat is getting frustrated. While I love storytelling, I definitely had a few days when certain classes needed to be reminded of how to behave during storytime.

The illustrations and crisp and simple, usually just Cat and Dog acting out the story instead of Red and the Wolf and Grandma. There is minimal colour and a lot of white space, which makes it easy to focus on the pictures. The title, while long, is fun to say, especially when you get to the part about the exploding eggs. I love the way the Foxes used every part of the book to tell the story, including the front and back cover and the endpapers, especially the illustration on the back when Grandma is knocking on her wardrobe door to come out. I always turn the book around so the kids can see it and knock on the hardcover while I plaintively call out “Hello? Hello?” It’s a crowd pleaser.

The story is hilarious and charming, and fun to read for both the storyteller and the listener. But Dog makes some very good points–are we sure the original is a children’s story? Why doesn’t the Wolf eat Little Red in the forest? And will anyone ever let Grandma out of the wardrobe? Read the book to find out!

 

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Freedom to Read Week 2015

 

Freedom to Read 2015Freedom to Read Week in Canada was February 22-28 this year, so this post is a little bit late, but I still wanted to write about it.

At my school this last year, I had a high counter right beside the main door that I used for a book display, which I changed weekly. I used different themes, genres, holidays, and once a month I asked a grade to pick out their favourite books for the display. I tried to combine fiction and nonfiction and different reading levels so there was usually something for everyone, and I’d often select the books I read to the younger grades for storytime from that week’s display, unless the teacher had made a special request. For Freedom to Read Week, I wanted to display challenged books but to also give some of the reasons they were challenged and encourage the students to think about not just why were they challenged, but why were they defended, and did they, the students, agree with either side?

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I put up a Freedom to Read poster that I got from the OLA Super Conference and added two sheets above outlining what Freedom to Read Week was about and a copy of the Ontario Library Association Position on Children’s Rights in the Library.

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The sign above says:

FREEDOM TO READ WEEK

Freedom To Read Week celebrates the fundamental right of ALL Canadians (including children!) to think, believe, and express their own ideas and opinions, and to have access to materials that express different ideas, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Challenging a book means that someone complained and thought a book should be taken out of a library and nobody should be allowed to read it. All of the books on this display have been challenged at one time, because people thought they were bad books for children to read.

Can you guess the reasons? Look inside the book for the answer!

Do you agree with the reason? Do you want to read it?

 

I searched for lists of commonly challenged books online and the arguments both for and against them, and then I searched the school library to see what books we owned. I made a large bookmark for each book I selected for the display with the title, author, original publication date, arguments for and against each book, the source I’d found the information from, and ended each one by asking “What do you think?” You can somewhat see the bookmarks sticking up from the books in the display photo above.

The books I selected were:

  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • Thomas Snowsuit by Robert Munsch
  • Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  • The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Road Dahl
  • Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Snowy DayAnother challenged book that I read during storytime that week was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, published in 1962 and awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963 among controversy. The story is about a little boy who wanders around his neighbourhood exploring after a snowfall. I read it to 2 classes, around 35-ish kids or so (I usually let the kids vote between 2 books for storytime, and the other classes wanted to hear Where the Wild Things Are), and at the end I asked them why they thought some people would not like the book and think that it shouldn’t be in libraries and at children shouldn’t be allowed to read it. The kids suggested all kinds of things from the story, how Peter didn’t tell his mother where he was going and went out without a grown-up and shouldn’t have knocked down snow with a stick and shouldn’t have thrown snowballs with the bigger kids and shouldn’t have tracked snow inside and a lot of reasons that probably say a lot about our helicopter parenting society, but not one of them guessed the real reason, nor did some of the older students who tried to guess what was wrong with it. Every adult I asked looked at the cover and knew right away.

The Snowy Day was the first full-colour picture book with an African-American protagonist. All of the kids, regardless of race, thought this was a bizarre reason to object to the book. It gave me an excellent opportunity to point out how attitudes change over time, and what some people find objectionable others have no problem with or want to promote, and all of those people use the library and deserve to have books.

You can find the bookmarks I made here: Reasons for challenged books .

Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

Today I Read…The Dark Lord & The Seamstress

tDL&tSToday I read The Dark Lord & The Seamstress written by J.M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. This is the product of the successful Kickstarter that I wrote about back in September.

Once upon a time there was a seamstress of unsurpassed talent, a woman of kindness and intelligence and beauty. The Dark Lord of Hell heard of her skill, and sent a messenger asking her to come and make him fine new suits of clothing, clothes worthy of his magnificence (and a little more modern in style). But when she arrived, something unexpected happened. The Dark Lord fell in love.

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With the recent rise in the popularity of adult colouring books (which is a great trend, because they’re super fun and besides my niece rarely lets me colour in hers–sharing is not a toddler’s strong suit), Frey has been marketing The Dark Lord and the Seamstress as an adult coloring book in verse. And her colouring contests have been fun, and artist Jennifer Vendrig’s illustrations are charming (though I still think my favourites are the chibi ones that she drew for the marketing and Kickstarter campaign–they’re just so cute! Especially the expression on the Seamstress’ face when she sees the Dark Lord’s dorky mismatched outfit!) Dark Lord

But it almost feels like the focus on the pictures is a bit of a disservice to the story, which is equally as charming. It’s a lovely fairy tale, very reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, except that the Dark Lord is not cursed to his appearance, more misunderstood. When the Seamstress learns to look beyond his red skin and frightful job and his terrible taste in clothing, she sees that his love is true. He is never forced to change, while she uses her talents to help dress the inhabitants of both Heaven and Hell. Both angels and devils are clothed in love and blood, in something that unites them all.

This is a picture book, but one I’d give to an older child. The rhyming verses sometimes use some advanced and old-fashioned words that might need to be explained. That said, this would be an excellent story to read aloud to an older child who can already read, say grade 4 and up.

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Once upon a time, oh yes,

So very long ago,

There was of course a lovely girl,

Who came to learn to sew.

And as it goes, fair listener,

She learned to sew so well

That even the Dark Lord Himself

Heard of her talent, down in Hell.

Today I Read…Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book

Viminy CroweToday I read Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book by Marthe Jocelyn and Richard Scrimger, and with illustrations by Claudia Davila.

Wylder Wallace is having the time of his life at ComicFest in Toronto. There are comics and people dressed in costume everywhere, and even onion rings! The only downside is the surly girl that he met at the food court. He really didn’t mean to spill salad dressing on her jeans, or to grab at the comic she was reading, but it was the new Flynn Goster comic! The one nobody has! And it looks so cool! Flynn Goster is so great!

Addy is really not impressed b the klutz who sat at her table and spilled salad dressing on her, but she has more important things to do than talk to some boy. She’s at ComicFest to help her uncle Vim, the creator of the fabulous steampunk Flynn Goster adventure comic. This is his last chance to prove that he can be a successful artist, and he really needs to sell out of his new comic, Flynn Goster and the Gold Rush Express. Unfortunately, the boxes got held up and the fancy train display isn’t working! Addy ducks into the washroom to try to get her pants clean, but when she tries to leave, she comes face to familiar face with another girl–Nelly Day, the former thief and newly adopted niece of Isadora Fortuna, balloonist and lady adventurer, and a character that her Uncle Vim based on her. But this isn’t a cosplayer, and they aren’t in the Toronto Convention Center anymore–they’re on a moving train, in the middle of the comic!

When Wylder follows her in, the story goes completely wrong, and it’s up to Addy, Wylder, and Addy’s pet rat Catnip to fix the story and change Flynn back to a hero from a zero and defeat the villainous Professor Aldous K. Lickpenny, not to mention saving Uncle Vim’s bacon from his angry investors!

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Viminy autograph

This was another of my treasures from the OLA Super Conference, and one that I managed to get signed. Richard Scrimger wrote instructions to Read, Enjoy, and Praise Highly (top left), so I’m going to obey. It’s an uncorrected proof, but other than improving the back blurb there’s not another thing I can see that it needs. This book is just plain fun, a rollicking adventure with lively characters and I kind of want to be Isadora Fortuna. It’s strange and silly in the best way, something so ridiculous and over-the-top that you just suspend your disbelief and go along for the wild ride. Adventurers, lady ballonists, mad scientists, robots, alligators, cyborgs, train hijacking, and even a little romance if you really have to (but not too much, because nobody likes mushy stuff)…There’s something for everyone.

I’ll start by saying that either Scrimger, Jocelyn, or both have definitely attended FanExpo before, because ComicFest and the Toronto Convention Center are very thinly veiled versions of FanExpo and the Metro Toronto Convention Center. As someone who’s been both to the event and to the building multiple times, it was fun seeing a version of it that didn’t involve me standing in line. Vim and Addy and Wylder are all characters I recognize, or at least their grown-up versions, so as someone else who’s worked the show it was very interesting. Fandom has been interested in steampunk for the last few year, so the streampunk adventure hero Flynn Goster and his world would fit right in.

The idea of falling into a book has been done before (Hello, Neverending Story), but falling into a comic book is interesting, especially when you include the pages they fall into. Pages from the Flynn Goster comic are scattered through the book, and while it’s not a comic book itself you do have to read the illustrations to follow the story. Claudia Davila’s illustrations are adorably whimsical, and perfect for a children’s steampunk adventure story, with modern-kids thrust into the middle of the story. Reading them makes me want a full coloured graphic novel version of the story.

This madcap adventure is a fun, fast read that you’ll devour with a laugh and a perfectly-timed quip, just like the famous adventurer, Flynn Goster!

 

Today I Read…Evil Genius

Evil GeniusToday I read Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks, the first book in the Evil Genius series.

Cadel Piggott never quite belonged. Maybe it’s because he was adopted by very selfish people who aren’t interested in him. Maybe it’s because he has no friends at school. Maybe it’s because he likes to hack into high-security computer networks.

Or maybe it’s because he’s the secret son of the greatest criminal mastermind the world has ever known, a man who has been manipulating his life since birth and now plans for Cadel to attend a new school–the Axis Institute, a school for criminals, evil geniuses, and people who just want to destroy the world when they grow up.

Now Cadel will finally start to find out just who he is, and with a little hard work, just how much of an evil genius he can become.

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I picked this one up at one of the Friends of the Oakville Public Library used book sales. It seemed like a really cool concept, and it started off fine, but it’s just way too long. The story really needs to be tightened and have about 100 pages chopped off. I got bored and had to force myself to finish the book. There’s a very large cast of quirky characters, an Jinks devotes time to each of them and Cadel’s interactions with each one, and the story slows further. There are plots within plots for no good reason, and the story slows again.

Cadel’s crisis of conscience annoyed me. He’s got no particular redeeming moral qualities at the start of the book–yes, he’s a child, children grow up and become less selfish, I don’t care. If you’re going to be an evil villain, then have a little commitment to your role for evil’s sake. And he doesn’t even have a grand moral awakening, he just gets scared and decides that good is easier and more tolerable for him.

I still think that the idea has a lot of potential, but as is the story drags on too long and I just don’t care about the characters or their journey. Maybe someone else will like it, but it’s not going on my read-again list anytime soon.