March Book Madness: Vordak the Incomprehensible

I was amused when a student of mine picked this book out of my library. Vordack is slightly unsual — a funny book about how to be a villain. (It’s hard work!) She loved the book, which surprised me further — I never would have known. Here is her glogster project about Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World by,eh, Vordak himself. This is part of my March Book Madness feature.

Peace (in the lair of amusing villians),

March Book Madness: Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles

book cover of   The Nixie's Song    (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, book 1)  by  Holly Black and   Tony DiTerlizzi
This is part of my March Book Madness series of posts. Mostly, I have been sharing out student work. But I also throw in my own reviews now and then, and here is one for Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi that I read aloud to my six year old son.

I’ll have to be sort of blunt: I didn’t like this one. And I don’t think my son did, either, although he enjoyed the illustrations of the giants, faeries and other enchanted creatures. But he wasn’t clammoring for me to cuddle up on the couch for read aloud (which is not like him) and I felt as if we needed to finish it just to finish it and move on to another book, and not to finish it because we were so engaged in the story.

And that’s disappointing because we both loved DiTerlizzi’s The Search for WondLa. That book had rich characters, an interesting plot with several story arcs and a setting that was full of wonder and surprises.

This book, which is an offshoot of the original Spiderwick Chronicles? Meh. We never really connected with the main character (although there was something there about this boy that I wanted to see further developed), the plot seemed strung together rather quickly, and it really felt as if someone had made a sequel to famous movie but only half-heartedly (as if, well, money for a follow-up were the reason, not the art itself). At least, it was short.

I admit that I picked this one up by mistake, thinking it was part of the original Spiderwick series. But I don’t think my son or I have much interest in reading more Spiderwick at this point in time. Enchanted creatures or not, the writing left me bored and dreaming of something better to read with my son.

Peace (in the book chronicle),

March Book Madness: Just Kids

Just Kids (trade paperback)

The brackets for basketball are out, but I am still plugging away at my own March Book Madness, where I am featuring book reviews and posters from myself and from my students.  Today, I am writing about Just Kids, the memoir by rocker/poet Patti Smith. This book won the National Book Award and I was very curious to see what the fuss was about. Although I am a musician and I write songs, I don’t know all that much about Smith, other than bits of her music here and there.

Just Kids covers the early years of Smith’s entry into the art world of New York City and it centers its heart around her relationship with photographer/artist Robert Mapplethorpe. I know of Mapplethorpe from my time living in Connecticut, when his photography show generated significant (negative) publicity at the Wadsworth Atheneum art museum in Hartford. The images were strong, and unsettling, and the show sparked controversy over whether or not they were pornographic or not.

Smith and Maplethorpe lived together and they were each other’s muse for much of their time in New York as they tried to find a foothold in creating art for a living while barely surviving from day to day. He helped her, and she helped him. The memoir captures this time together, and Smith is indeed a lovely poet. This book has so many beautiful lines about love, friendship, music and art — particularly the ending, where she writes about Maplethorpe slowly dying of AIDS as she is carrying her second child into the world. Her remembrance is moving and touching, and her connection to Maplethorpe is so strong, the reader can’t help but feel the loss, too.

What I found so interesting, too, is Smith’s world as an emerging artist before she found rock and roll. Her paths crossed with all sorts of folks, from Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, to William Boroughs, to poet Allen Ginsberg, to others whose names meant little to me but I have a feeling they were influential to many. She lived for some time at the famed Chelsea Hotel, where artists scratched out a living. Her neighbor was the famed Harry Smith, whose recordings and collection of Americana music in the deep south are still looked at as an important archive of music in our country.

I felt jealous, even with all the turmoil. You can just sense the possibilities for art in the world around her, and her writing captures the spirit — both the highs and the lows — of something emerging during that time, as if it were a wave that she was desperately trying to catch as an artist, and then, she does, and everything (including her relationship with Maplethorpe) changes.

Just Kids is a gem.

Peace (in the art),

March Book Madness: The Body

This is part of my ongoing March Book Madness series, in which I am featuring book reviews and posters from students and myself, and my own family. I have quite a number of advanced readers this year. Here, this student chose a book of short stories from Stephen King, and focused on the novella of “The Body,” which was turned into a fantastic movie called Stand By Me.

I was a bit worried about him reading King, but our discussions assured me that he was ready for it and completely immersed in the books (this is not the first King book he has been carrying around.) He may run into this book again in high school, as I know it is taught in some schools.

Here is his report of “The Body.”

Peace (in the journey),

March Book Madness: The Maze Runner

The Maze RunnerThis is part of my March Book Madness feature, where I am sharing out ideas about books all month from my sixth graders and my own bit of reading. The Maze Runner by James Daschner has hit some gold with my students this year, and there are quite a few who have soared through the sequel and are now waiting for the third book (and pining for a movie version).

This particular student is a strong reader, and he found the book just OK. He mentions that some parts drag on too long and that it needed a bit of humor to lighten up the mood of the story. It’s interesting because his reading journal was much more critical of the book than his poster project. I suppose that points to writing for an audience.

I had started to read The Maze Runner with my 10 year old son, and he said the same thing, and then abandoned it.

I guess it all depends on your taste.  Books with themes of teenagers surviving in some wasteland environment are all the rage these days. I guess young readers feel some affinity for a place where they have little control and need to use wits to survive. (school). I thought the concept of the book was good — a mysterious place, loss of memories and danger lurking outside a sanctuary that is always shifting. I might need to go back and try The Maze Runner again myself.

Peace (in the maze),

March Book Madness: Sent

This is another in my daily sharing of book reviews and projects from my students (and sometimes, from me and my family) throughout this March Book Madness of mine.

This is another student who was not all that thrilled with using Glogster and chose instead to do a poster. It’s on the book Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I have not read this series. Her poster is interesting because it has a 3D element to the castle, which sticks out from the poster board.
Peace (in the books),