Sunday, March 30, 2014

Grace Lin, Rabbit-Toads, and True Magic: Starry River of the Sky

I am magical!
So is this!!
There are lots of different magics, many of which I don't really get since I am a dog, and supposedly not a very super-intelligent one.  There's tricks done by experts, which I sometimes see on TV, and tricks done by my little person, which involve a lot of hands-behind-back action.  Then there's the magic of new dog food. Garbage left unattended can have a magic of its own, as can cats caught in a corner.

This weekend I discovered the true magic of story.  It started with a thick book with some gold on the cover, which caught my eye.  Then I saw a rabbit, and a tiger (really just a large cat, right?), and a boy carrying a sack that might contain some kind of food.  When I used my tongue to flip over the pages I saw colorful illustrations and words that were not too hard for me.  Being between meals, I flopped right over with the book resting on my furry belly.

Hours later I was brought back to reality by my family coming through the back door.  I had spent the afternoon in the wonderful world of the Village of Clear Sky.   The name makes the village sound beautiful, but it is not.  It is dry, and poor, and on one edge is "the stone pancake", a long stretch of barren stone, not a real delicious pancake.  Rendi is a boy who has run away from his rich home, hurt and angry, and has become a chore boy at the village Inn.  Every day he does his chores in a fog of anger, every night he is haunted by wails of misery that only he can hear.

I had become immersed in the world of Rendi, and the little girl Peiyi and her father the inn keeper, and the beautiful Madame Chang and old Mr. Shan with his long beard and lost eyes.  There are mysteries in the story:  Where is the moon, which has left the sky?  Why does Rendi hear sounds of pain and suffering each night?  Who is the mysterious Madame Chang who tells the amazing stories?  Why does Mr. Shan love the toad he calls "Rabbit"?  I mean really, can anyone really love a toad? They taste terrible!

I had to share this book with Mom, because she was the one who brought it home from the Library.  So I had to wait until Sunday to finish this book.  In the meantime I watched her read, and smile, and look sad, and cry, and get cranky when others bothered her while she was reading.  When she finished I could tell she was still in the Village of Clear Sky in her mind, and for quite a long time.  I had to sneak the book off the table and go back down to the basement to read it.  I think they all thought I was eating the kitty litter again!

What a story!  It is a story with other stories woven in, and you can't put it down!  Mom kept going on about "universal truths", whatever that means.  All I know is it fills your heart and soul with beauty.  It is a mystery and a fairy tale, and you want to lean up against the characters and get your ears scratched and give them doggy comfort in return.  Even I cried in parts, but I guess it sounded as though I were just whining, because Daddy took me out to pee.

This is a book of magic for everyone, but is special if you are from China or have Chinese family.  Grace Lin has created beauty in a work filled with pain and hope, and toads and snails, and rabbits and tigers, and love and regret- but most importantly with peace and forgiveness and a Moon and a Mountain!
Trying to read together - not so easy

Friday, January 31, 2014

Pinterest Stole My Brain!!

I have been a bad dog!  I became so excited about discovering Pinterest that I neglected my reading.  Who knew you could just paw in "squirrels" and hundreds of pictures would come up that you could then add to a board for your drooling pleasure at any time?  There were also lots of DIY ideas for dog toys, and sweaters, and homemade biscuits...  You get the idea. 

Finally I had to stop and pull myself away.  I picked up a few small books to ease my way back into the dog-that-reads mode.  It turned out they were quite good!  First, lets examine Alexander McCall Smith's series about his heroine named Precious.  I felt an immediate kinship with her, as my name is equally ridiculous.  Don't tell the author I said that!  I started with The Great Cake Mystery, which appealed to my love of all things edible.  Then I went on to The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, which also appealed to my love of all things edible.  What I soon noticed about this series is that it is beautifully written.  The tone is gentle and melodic, with a hint of Rudyard Kipling.  The characters are likable, and the setting is exotic buy homey.  Precious uses her very good brain to think carefully about the mystery that presents itself and she saves the day in very satisfying ways.      

I also have discovered that I have a good brain for mysteries.  I kept wondering, what is it that smells so good in that big white bin?  One day I used my snout to flip the top and there were delicious things!  I spread them all over the family room so that I could better separate the smells and taste the delicacies!  My next mystery to solve is why my mystery-solving caused my family to make tooth-gnashing noises.  I was quite delighted by their reaction, but I didn't fully understand it.
Not me, but I wish it were!!!!!!!
The other little book I read was Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay.  I love a cat in a bag as much as the next person.  This was an especially big cat, too.  The cat caused mixed reactions during the book.  The grandma was unhappy, then happy.  Lulu and her friend kept worrying about the cat and doing crazy things, like taking a wheelbarrow to lunch.  There seemed to be a lot of animals roaming around.  Hilary McKay is a really fun author, there is always chaos and excitement, and then a happy ending.  I know you'll enjoy this book.

Oh, I forgot to tell you what the Alexander McCall Smith books were about!  The first one was about a cake and the second one was about a meerkat.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Princess' Pinterest

The Mansfield Public Library in Massachusetts is my favorite library, that's where all my books come from.  I'm not actually allowed in, of course, but the books that Mom brings home always smell good, and they're good reading!  She has helped me make a Pinterest Board on the Library Pinterest page, so if you want a visual of all the books I've read and reviewed you can go to Pinterest, type in Mansfield Library, and look for my Board, "Princess's Favorite Books". 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tom Angleberger Has Become Part of Our Bedtime Routine

You may know Tom Angleberger as the author of the Origami Yoda books, but I know him as the famous author of Crankee Doodle, by far the best book that I have ever found under the bed with all the dust bunnies.  You need to read this, but before you read it make sure you remember the song, which is extremely silly in my opinion.  It turns out that this book is even sillier, but dare I say also brilliant!  The very toothy Pony is trying to get Crankee Doodle to go to town, and Crankee will have none of it.  You have never heard anyone complain so much over a simple request!  At the suggestion of buying a feather for his hat he is positively waving his arms around in consternation, and that is where our bedtime routine comes in.  The Little One yells down the stairs, "Daddy, be Crankee Doodle!"  and Daddy waves his arms around like spaghetti and yells things like, "You want a glass of water?  Why would you want a glass of water, you'll just have to pee!  Water just goes right through you, and you can't possibly expect me to go get you a glass and then turn on the faucet and run the water into it and then carry it upstairs..."  Anyway, you get the idea.  I'll just say that both the Pony and the Little One get what they want through tears, but first there is a lot of hilarity and arm-waving.  Don't miss this one, it will make you laugh outright, and make sure you read the Pony's version of the song's history on the last page.

If you happen to be a little older, and a girl, you will love this other book I found under the bed, right next to a piece of popcorn.  First I ate the popcorn (stale) and then I opened up this book with my tongue.  It is called Heaven Is Paved with Oreos and it is written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, who happens to be the sister of Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love which I have never read, but I would if it were called  Eat, Pee, Love.
So first there were some books about cows and football, the Dairy Queen trilogy, which Mom says are great.  The characters of those books are in this one, too, but the most important person here is Sarah.  She is best friends with Curtis, but maybe he is more than a friend.  Or maybe he isn't.  It is so confusing, for her and for me.  Luckily her somewhat flaky but lovely Grandma wants to take her to Rome, and that seems like a really great idea since everything at home has gotten so awkward.  The trip is full of surprises, some good and some bad, sort of like discovering a mouse in the house and then realizing the cats have already removed its tail.  Sarah learns a lot and also eats a lot, which I especially liked, although I can't really eat Oreos.  They look yummy, though.
Even better than Oreos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This book made my heart swell because the most important thing Sarah learns is that love is amazing in all its forms, which I already knew.  I don't even have to go to Rome to understand the power of love because I'm a dog, the embodiment of love!  If I do say so myself.
Me giving love and getting it in return

Monday, November 11, 2013

PSY, Gangnam Style, and the Power of Music

How am I going to tie this in with this blog about books?  Keep reading to find out!
Mom wants me to write about "The Barely Controlled Chaos That Is Our Life", or "Why Are the Pets and Children Making Such a Mess?"  I told her, "No!, this is my blog about BOOKS!"  Although it sounded like, "woof, woof, woof!!"

So I am going to ignore her and tell you about some books that I love, ones that show how music can change your life.  I know, because in my previous life down in Georgia I only got to listen to Country and Western, which made my skin itch.  Then on the van up to Maine they played only what I think they call "pop music", which I did not like as much as I like what they call "popcorn'.  Now I get to listen to all sorts of music on those magic discs!  Some make my Dad do what Mom calls "interpretive dance", some make my Mom practically jump up and down!  Some are just so beautiful that I can feel my heart beat faster. 

Mole Music is a book that gives you something new each time you look at it.  David McPhail uses watercolors and ink for his pictures, and they go deeper than his words, which are few and perfectly chosen.  This seems like a simple book at first, but then you realize that it is so powerful.  It is like the layers of a Dingo Stick, that you chew and savor, forgetting that you are really controlling the tartar on your teeth.  Mole Music has layers, too, the underground where Mole lives, and the above ground where the World is unfolding, unseen by Mole.  The instrument of change is the violin, which Mole orders through the mail and then learns to play.  Boy, does that take a long time!  He is so determined, and while he is learning a whole oak tree grows! Also, he changes the world, but the beauty of the book is that he doesn't know it - all he knows is the internal power of music and the joy that doing something you love brings to your own world, no matter how small.

Speaking of which, my world is pretty small.  A comfy couch, cats to annoy, squirrels to chase, a little neighborhood.  Those are good things, but I know from my book reading that the world is an amazing and huge place!  Also, the little one has forced me to watch something called YouTube.  Her favorite is some guy named PSY who does a silly dance.  I wouldn't think much of this, but if you were to mention him or do the dance or sing part of the song every child under 11 would join in or get excited.  That is the power of music, no matter how silly it seems to me, it can touch people from all different parts of the world, and that can connect them across cultures and borders.  I suppose YouTube is good for that, but I still prefer books.
This is not in English!  Oops, my paw hit the wrong button.  Luckily music is the universal language.

The Cello of Mr. O, by Jane Cutler, is another powerful picture book.  It takes place during a war.  A girl tells the story of her neighborhood where the people are struggling to get by.  They are surrounded by ugliness, burned and bombed buildings, no dogs to admire...  A grumpy man lives upstairs in the girl's apartment building, he does not like it when the children make noise.  He does not greet the other people with words or tail-sniffing when they are in line waiting for supplies.  The girl and her friends do not like him.  But Mr. O has a cello, and one day Mr. O creates beauty in the midst of all the ugliness.  The sound of the music and the courage of Mr. O bring hope where there has been none.  Then his cello is destroyed!  I will not tell you about the last few pages, but they are gorgeous and amazing and catch your heart.

I am going to just mention two books for older readers that are funny and make you feel good, just like my fuzzy ears and soft fur.  Too bad you can't feel them through the computer!

Notes From An Accidental Band Geek, by Erin Dionne, tells the story of Elyse who wants to be an orchestra superstar like her dad and grandad.  Somehow she ends up in the school marching band, complete with an ugly polyester band uniform.  She can't seem to get anything right!  But music transforms, no matter what form it takes.

That is true also in A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban.  Zoe wants a baby grand piano so much, but what her family can afford is an old wheezy organ. She has to learn how to play it from a lesson book called "The Hits of the Seventies".  This book can make you laugh out loud.  It is very inspiring, too, just like all the others I've written about.

When you read any of these books you want to get up on all four feet and sniff out an instrument, or touch your nose to the play button on the CD player and listen to some music that travels through you and comes out your fur tips.  And maybe you also want to spread that joy to your neighbor, next door or down the street or in the next town or across the ocean!  Even if that neighbor is a cat.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween - What's In It For Me?

"No, Princess, don't eat the candy.  That's for the children!"
"Get your nose out of the bowl!!"
"What are you doing in the garbage?!"

That's all I hear at Halloween.  Children schmildren is what I say.  Halloween should really be for dogs, and chocolate should be taken off the Halloween menu since dogs can't eat it.  I like skittles too, you know.  And the little individual packets go down nicely.

Oh, I guess I'm supposed to be talking about books, not food.  Sorry.  I am allowed to read the Halloween books, and I do have some favorites.  There are some very fun books for Halloween.  I bet you'll already know some of my favorites, but maybe I'll also tell you about some you've never seen before!

Here's a few that aren't officially Halloween but are good to read at this time of year:

Skeleton Hiccups - I'd like to chew on some of those skeleton bones, and seeing a skeleton try to drink water sure is fun.
Hoodwinked - small witch wants pet (of course!), bats are no fun - they sleep all day!  The toad has nothing to say, the warthog doesn't work out.  Then something too hideously cute shows up at the back door.
The Tailypo - doesn't that tail look suspiciously like mine?
King of the Cats, also by Paul Galdone - Brrrr!  Cats give me the creeps, especially in graveyards!

Two classics that you may already know about:

Big Pumpkin -Like the Great Big Enormous Turnip, but more tasty.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything - Boo!

Two for the youngest listeners:
Mouse's First Halloween - Can you guess what all those noises are?  And one candy corn is a treat for a mouse (not for me, I require a whole bag)
Moonlight the Halloween Cat - It should have been about a dog, but this shows the magical excitement of being out late on a special night, maybe peeing on someone's lawn.

Fun for older:
The Perfect Pumpkin Pie - Dead cranky man buried in the backyard, new family in the house.  Unfortunately, the dead cranky man has now become a dead cranky ghost, and he won't go away until he gets the perfect pie.  Can Grandma provide it?  So funny!

Zen Ghosts - A little beyond my dog brain, I admit.  Amazing pictures and a huge panda that reminds me of my dad, at least in girth.  And how did that Panda become two pandas?

Mom's Favorites, and I tell her they're mine, too, just to be nice:
The Runaway Pumpkin - Aaaaagh!
Annie Was Warned - Is that a spider on her neck?
The Three Bear's Halloween - hee, hee, hee

Sorry I didn't add author information, but I am a dog after all.  I can only do so much.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Minecraft Versus Building Worlds Through Great Books

Ha, ha!  Made you look!  Or at least I hope so.  This is partly an experiment to see if I will get more views merely by putting the name of a popular and addictive game in my title.  I'll let you know in my next post if it works.  And you thought only foxes could be crafty!
I took this picture, which is why I'm not in it...

So, I've been away for a while in Spain.  I did some reading on the plane, as the movie was terrible and the earphones wouldn't stay in my big ears.  Mom said I didn't miss much. She had given me two of her favorite classics to read, and also brought along a paperback that neither of us had read.  We were very cozy and companionable while reading those books, just as I know you are when you are reading with someone you love.

We begin with "The Phoenix and the Carpet" by E. Nesbit, but Mom says we could start with any of her books.  "E" stands for Edith, a singularly ugly name in my opinion, but who am I to talk?  I curse whoever named me Princess.  Five brothers and sisters live in England at the beginning of the last century.  I gather that children then got to gallivant around without anyone paying any attention to what they were doing, as these children have all sorts of adventures without leashes or fences.  They start the book by burning a hole in the nursery carpet, and then are punished in the same way that our little one is punished here - one parent takes away a privilege and the other forgets and gives it back.  The next day a new carpet is purchased, and inside it is an egg, which is put on the mantelpiece.  Later, again unleashed, the children knock the egg into the fireplace, and before they can pull it out something amazing happens.  It hatches into a Phoenix!  Crikey!!!

This is a fantasy with old-fashioned charm but an amazingly modern appeal.  E. Nesbit is so funny, the children she has created are full of squabbles and laughs and mischief.  Their adventures with the magic Phoenix are wondrous, but they are also full of little disasters.  You will laugh reading about them, I know you will.

When you create a world with Minecraft you keep adding on to what you first created.  One thing leads to another, and that's a lot of the fun, and you are also picturing your world in your brain as you create it on the screen.  When you read a book by a great author you picture the world they created through their words, but you are using your own experiences to fill it in. What you are picturing will be different from what another reader would be picturing, but with the same basic structure.  Now add another layer.  Suppose a writer loved a favorite author so much that he or she decided to write their own fantasies in the same spirit.  That is what happened with Edward Eager, he modeled his wonderful series on the books he loved by E. Nesbit, but he wrote them 50 years later.

Boy, her part was boring, wasn't it?  You just want to hear about the books.  So we read "Half Magic" by Edward Eager.  Another silly person name.  Anyway, there are three sisters and a brother on a summer vacation.  They get E. Nesbit's book "The Enchanted Castle" out of the library and then wonder why exciting things like that never happen to them.  Well, they're in for a surprise!  They find a magic thing on the sidewalk, almost as good as the squirrel pelt I found in the bushes behind the firehouse tonight (which I didn't get to keep).  But it's only half a magic thing.  So when they start figuring out that it is magic and experimenting with making wishes things go hilariously wrong.

Yes, my favorite part is when Martha wishes the cat could talk, because she is lonely and needs companionship!

Stop interrupting!  So the cat suddenly starts talking, but she is saying things like, "Azy ooselfitz!  Powitzer grompaw!".  Plus she won't stop talking, and she is driving the children crazy.  You get the idea, wishes can only half come true, and it takes the children the whole book to figure out how to say the wishes so they won't backfire.  So funny!

Amazingly coincidental, but the paperback book we brought on our trip, "Any Which Wall" by Laurel Snyder, turned out to continue this trail of authors, E. Nesbit to Edward Eager.  There is a quote from Edward Eager's "Seven Day Magic" at the beginning of the book, and as I read further I saw the similarities.  A group of children with time on their hands and very little supervision, finding a crack in the mundane fabric of their everyday world.  Magic seeps through and changes their lives, this time in the form of a huge wall in the middle of an Iowan field, and a little key found in the dirt.  And their adventures

Blah, blah, blah.  What she's trying to say is that the fun lies in the unleashedness of it all, running free and having adventures.  They each get a wish, and each wish goes a bit astray.  When things go wrong they have to use their brains and bravery to make it right.

Magic is a tricky business, with no guarantees.  But like all things worthwhile, you'd rather have it than not, no matter how problematic.  And finding magic is a matter of keeping your eyes and heart open, and believing that it is possible to find it anywhere.

I find magic every day, it arrives twice in my bowl, once in the morning and once at night.  And squirrels are magical all the time, with their quick escapes and ability to disappear into thin air.  Books are magic, taking me to other worlds in my fuzzy head.  If you happened upon this blog entry because you typed "Minecraft" into Google, try picking up a book instead.
 Gratuitous picture of a Spanish cat cleaning its butt - right before I chased it!!!