Review: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

I try to regularly submit reviews of picture books over at Just One Book, which is a fantastic site for learning about the art and literature of picture books. They recently published an audio review I did on the book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. It’s a fantastic read about Philippe Petit’s daring escapade between the Twin Towers that no longer stand (after 9-11).

Here is my podcast review of this wonderful story.

(And here is a link to my collection of graphic novel and picture book reviews, if you are interested).

Peace (in books),
Kevin

Love Hate That Cat

Hate That Cat By Sharon Creech

Jack is back, and so is Miss Stretchberry, but this time it is a cat at the center of the story, and not a dog. You may remember how much I loved the book, Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. I use Love That Dog in my poetry unit, reading it aloud to my students and using the poems and sense of exploration of poetic styles as a way to reach my young writers.

Well, Creech has done it again, but this time, the book is Hate That Cat, and just like its predecessor, the book is infused with poems from the canon (Edgar Allen Poe, William Carlos Williams, Valerie Word, Lord Tennyson, etc.) as Jack tries to come to grips with two things: how to find love for cats and how to explain his love for his mother, who is deaf. The book is written in the form of a poetic journal between Jack and his teacher, who remains a silent yet supportive and loving presence just off the pages of the book. Everyone should have a teacher like Miss Stretchberry in their life.

The cat element revolves around a black cat that scratched him and hurt him when he went out of his way to save it — thus the refrain: I hate that cat. But then, even as he continues to cherish the memories of his dog, Sky, that formed the center of Love That Dog, he gets a kitten and his heart melts. The black cat that he hates so much later redeems itself with Jack.

The mother element is more delicate and unfolds slowly, as Jack begins to tell what it is like to have a mother who is deaf and signs with her hands for language. He wonders early in the book, before we even know about his mother: how does someone who can’t hear sound experience a poem with sound words within it? He finds a way, and the book ends with a poetry reading, with his mother in the audience, as Jack signs his poems from the front of the room.

As with Love That Dog, I found myself getting very emotional at certain points in Hate That Cat and if you are not moved by Jack and his poems, then … I don’t know. Creech uses a sense of humor to set up the deeper emotional experiences from Jack’s world.

Along the way, Jack learns about poetic techniques such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, dissonance, and more. And Creech tosses a little literary fire into the mix by having Jack’s uncle, a college professor of English, argue with Jack about what makes a poem a poem (his uncle believes that poems must have grand themes, using intricate rhyming patterns and assures Jack that what he is writing in class are not poems at all, but just scribbles of words).

The book puts me into a bit of a conundrum: do I drop Love That Dog for Hate That Cat? Or do I find a way to use both?

Peace (in the wonder of books),
Kevin

Bound by Law: Copyright Comic

This was an interesting find and very helpful. It came out of a discussion going on in a listserv that I am part of with the National Writing Project around fair use of material and the copyright law, which I find rather onerous (even as someone who writes and publishes in a variety of ways) and not at all in sync with the flexible era that we now live in.

Some professors at Duke University put together a very engaging comic explanation of how the copyright laws work, and why they are in place. Also, the short book advocates for some changes to make the fair use aspect of materials more manageable for artists in any medium (including the use of Creative Common licensing).

CSPD Comics

Cover of comic, superhero with video camera and creative commons shield

The comic unfolds around the story of a documentary filmmaker trying to determine which footage that she shot of New York City might be troublesome for her movie and along the way, the book gives very good examples of how other movies have run afoul of the copyright laws. For example, there are situations where corporations try to extort (my word) $10,000 from a young filmmaker who accidentally captures a snippet of a copyrighted song in the background of some footage. Ridiculous.

The book was published by Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain and is available for relatively cheap and it is even cheaper if you purchase class sets (four bucks a piece). More information about buying the book is here.  Or, in the spirit of this whole endeavor, you can get a free digital download of the book in any variety of styles (flash version, html, pdf, etc) by going here. They even provide a way to remix the book, if that strikes your fancy.

This comic is worth a look if you work with students still trying to get a grasp on why you can’t just take any thing in the world and remix it and put it on YouTube. Or why some songs are just off limits for some projects. And if you are like me and believe in your heart that all art (music, paintings, books, etc.) should be free and accessible to anyone (even though you acknowledge this is not reality — people want to get paid for their creative time), it is still valuable to know the law and this comic gives a great overview of the legal aspects of copyright protection.

Peace (in trademarked symbols),
Kevin

Scott’s shortshortshort book review contest

Bookreviewcontest

Scott McLeod has launched a contest of sorts at his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, in which folks are asked to write a book review by adhering to the Twitter-concept of 140 characters. That is not a lot of words, so how you pack meaning into your choice is crucial.

Go ahead. Give it a try.

Here is mine:

The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America
By David Hajdu
The Ten-Cent Plague, by David HajduMy review: The innocence of millions were lost to comic books, or so politicians would have had us believe. Yet the genre survived intact – thankfully.

Head on over to Dangerously Irrelevant and post your own.

Peace (in brevity),
Kevin

Just One More Book Bash

My friends over at Just One More Book are celebrating their 400th podcast. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Go give the 400th podcast a listen as they reflect and share their love of Picture Books with the world (oh, yeah, and I sent them a short piece on a book with a summer theme that I love called Weslandia by Paul Fleischman).

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And consider sending in your own review of a favorite picture book. They are very open to guest reviews and encourage your participation in the friendliest of ways.

Peace (in celebration),
Kevin

Another Writing Adventure: The Graphic Classroom

Who am I to pass up another call for writers?

I’ve been following the blog The Graphic Classroom as a way to get some ideas and reviews about graphic novels and comics. Chris, who runs the site, is a great resource, as he breaks down his reviews of books into tangible ways, including the potential use for teachers in the classroom. He pays close attention to the appropriateness of language and violence, giving teachers a critical heads-up that I always appreciated.

Not long ago, he asked if anyone else wanted to review books with him. I figured that since I already read a lot of graphic novels and since I have begun using them in the classroom (but only in a minimal way so far), it might be a nice way to delve a bit deeper. I am hoping to go deeper with graphic novels next year but I haven’t quite figured out how. Maybe reading and analyzing more novels will be helpful.

And so, here I am:

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You can read my first review of a comic called The Dreamland Chronicles over at the Graphic Classroom (and another one all ready about Radio: An Illustrated Guide, which is a look inside the production of This American Life).

Chris is still looking for other writers. There is no pay involved but he can hook you up from time to time with books to review from the publishers. And you get to be part of a community of folks who are thinking of this popular genre for kids for classroom use.

As an aside: the city where I live was home to the creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and they both lived here for many years during the high points of that comic and then television show and then movies, merchandise, etc. One of the men, Kevin Eastman, invested some money in our downtown and created the Words and Picture Museum. It was a fun place, with three floors dedicated to the art of the comic book. The museum only stayed open for two years, but I used to bring my little guys in there. The kids were too small to know what it was, but they liked the colors and the artwork, and the winding staircase. These days, my older son, in particular, is into comics of all genres and it would be nice to have the option of seeing comics in a museum. However, the museum is just online and it doesn’t seem to be much to talk about, in my opinion.

Peace (in art and words),
Kevin

Just One More Book Review

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I have another podcast review over at Just One More Book, which is a great site for learning about picture books and loving the genre. And they are welcoming to anyone submitting their own reviews of picture books. So, go ahead: give it a try — you can send them a written review, an MP3 review or even call their special phone number and leave your review on their answering machine.

This time (which I guess is now my fifth review there), I reviewed Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco — a book that deals with the idea of books and literacy in a very interesting way. I love the ending, in particular, as the children lead the way to literacy.

Go to Just One More Book to hear my review.

Peace (in podcasts),
Kevin

Dear Bob … Our Spam Anti-Hero

This is one of an occasional email that I write to an author after reading their books. I have no idea what possesses me, but that non-reflective stance has never stopped me before. Today, I am writing an email to Bob Servant (or is it Neil Forsythe?) who wrote a wonderful tome entitled: Delete This At Your Peril! that centers on Servant’s email exchanges with spammers who clog our inboxes with harrowing tales of royal riches, Russian brides and other adventures.

Bob, of Scotland, decides to join in the fracas with wit and humor, and I was laughing so hard my children were worried about me.

Here is a blurb from his website:

Delete This At Your Peril features the anarchic exchanges between Bob and the hapless spam merchants. As they offer Bob lost African millions, Russian brides and get-rich-quick scams he responds by generously offering some outlandish schemes of his own. The spammers may have breached his firewall, but they have met their match as Bob Servant rises heroically to the challenge, and sows confusion in his wake.

Also at Bob’s website, I found his email address and wrote him a letter.

Dear Bob,

I am a little reluctant to send you an email, knowing as I now do the possibilities of your replies. I don’t have the time or energy for that kind of relationship. So let me just start out by saying that I do not have a load of cash sitting in a vault in Africa, nor am I the long lost heir to some royal seat in Zambia. I will never be considered a Russian beauty with a well-endowed chest (although my wife thinks I am cute enough for her) who seeks a hubby for love and life, nor will I give you 15 percent profits if my “friends” wire you some cash that the government shouldn’t know about. In addition, Bob, let me make it clear that I have no interest whatsoever in Chinese rubber belts or plastic planter pots of any sort. Neither do I intend to fall for your “Bobby” babe routine.
And, just so we all understand and are on the up and up, I never took your window-washing ladders that day that will clearly live in infamy in your mind, Bob.
That said, Bob, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book, which I read yesterday afternoon in one long stretch. My kids were running amok, the chores were not being done, and in general, I let the world go to hell as I laughed my butt off about your exploits with email. I may never look at one of those spam emails again without thinking of you, Bob. Come to think of it, though, I had finally found myself not even noticing the spam anymore. Kind of like the kids screaming and you just tune them out completely? You know how that works. It just falls outside your field of vision. Now I will notice the spam again. I’ll see it in my inbox and think, should I forward this to Bob or has he already seen it?
So I am now wondering if I should be thanking you or be getting pissed off about spam coming back into my sight.
Let’s leave it at thanks, Bob. I bought the book, after all. You only wrote it. Staying positive about this whole spam situation keep us on some good footing, don’t you think?
Bob, I want to say that it’s not often that you run across someone who has the intellect to parry with the unknowns of this world, but you, Bob, have done it, with grace and humor and just enough vulgarity to make your adventure fun for the rest of us. I pictured you, with all of your Jazz magazines piled like rocks around you, punching keys in Scotland and meanwhile, somewhere in the world, some other fool was trying to string you along with only one goal: to gain your Cheeseburger Van fortune.
The real question is: are there really people who send along their bank numbers? Is this world littered with such imbeciles? Are we all such fools?
No need to answer, Bob. I think we both know the answer is, sadly, yes.

I come, then, to another sticky matter: Are you real, Bob? Or are you just some imaginary device from your pal, Neil? I guess it doesn’t matter. In the wired world, an imaginary fellow has as much chance to do damage as the real one.

Keep up the good work!

A pal from across the seas,

Kevin

The book can be ordered via Amazon. (Bob promises to ship me two talking lions for promoting his book, so tell them I sent ya)

Peace (in humor),
Kevin

Just One More Book: My Review, part 4

The wonderful children’s book blog — Just One More Book — published another of my reviews of favorite picture books. This one is called The Three Pigs and it is written by David Weisner. What I like about the book is how he takes the traditional story and completely breaks down all of the narrative walls.

The folks at Just One More Book are always looking for listener feedback (you can do it on the phone, even) and for guest reviewers. This is my fourth review so far in the past year. Take a look at Just One More Book.

Here is my review of The Three Pigs

Peace (in pictures and stories),
Kevin

Just One More Book: My Review, part 3

Justonebook

I got a podcast book review published over at Just One More Book again (this is number three!) and you can do it, too. They make it so easy for anyone who loves books to give your own insights. They even have a phone number you can call and leave your review as a message. Does it get any easier than that? (no)

I reviewed Mole Music by David McPhail this time.

Take a listen

My previous reviews were:

Peace (in books),
Kevin