Monthly Archives: June 2013

Children’s Book Review – Bored (not a typo) Book Edition

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Norie keeps insisting that when Evie’s born she won’t be ready to fully comprehend The Great Gatsby or “Sonny’s Blues,” and that we need to get some board books so that we can ease her into the whole reading/page turning concept.  I’m not convinced, but we bought a bunch of board books anyway.

On the bright side, doing so has caused me to rethink my career trajectory.  Forget the whole novel writing thing or the teaching gig.  I’m going to write board books.  Seriously.  I can spit out hundreds of these things in an afternoon.  To prove it, my reviews will take the form of what I’ve learned about how to become a successful board book writer.

For convention’s sake, here is the only book that even had artwork worth noting:

Given that the bugs eyes are always nervously pointed backward, I assume the last page reads "Hello RAID."

Given that the bugs’ eyes are always nervously pointed backward, I assume the last page reads “Hello RAID.”

Hello Bugs: Say hello to something.  Here it’s bugs.  But anything can work: birds, fish, cars, plants, reptiles, farm animals, hard-core drugs, fungi.  There, I just practically wrote eight books already.  Grade: C+ (the art is the only reason this wasn’t lower).

A Perfect Day for Poohsticks Pooh’s Party Ten Juicy Radishes: Pay for the rights to an established character and have him do something.  Pooh walks to a river in one book (to play Poohsticks, but we never see him play the game, the book just covers the walking) and has a party in the other.  Then Peter Rabbit watches other animals eat his radishes.  He could read a book, go sledding, go swimming, talk to his friends, do jumping jacks.  There, that’s five more books.  Grade: D

Nobunny’s Perfect: Talk about kids.  In this case, it’s about how kids can be bad sometimes and good sometimes.  I might go with how they’re sleepy sometimes and awake sometimes.  Or angry sometimes and happy sometimes.  Or constipated sometimes and regular sometimes.  That’s three more books.  Grade: B-

Wacky Wild Peek a Boo!: Repeat a phrase over and over.  Peek a Boo’s taken, so I’ll go with “Goodnight, sleep tight,” “Dinner’s ready,” “Thank you,” and “Gotta Take a Leak.”  I could come up with more, but that’s four for now.  Grade: C+

Baby Bunny: So, verbs.  I know lots of them – that’s another few hundred books.  Grade: D+

Stripy Horse: Include tactile stuff, whether it makes sense or not.  Grade: C-

I Am Busy: Hide some of the words behind tabs.  Doesn’t matter what the words are.  Just hide them.  Grade: C

Diggedy, Duggedy Dog!:  When hiding the words gets too complicated, just hide part of the picture.  Any part will do.  Grade: D

First Sesame Street Library: Teach basic skills.  Like counting… to five.  Maybe I could write a sequel that covers 6-10.  Grade: C

Bats at the Beach:  Though technically a board book, this is really a full length book that has been put on board pages, so it’s actually pretty good.  Bats go to the beach at night and hilarity ensues.  They don’t say hello to anything, thank god.  Grade: B

This post took me ten minutes to write, and I already have ideas for hundreds of books, and the combined word counts of all of those hundreds of books wouldn’t be much higher than this post.  Even if I only get paid $5 a book I could be making $100 an hour easy.

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Updates

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So first, here’s the update on the belly:

According to Babycenter it's either the size of a big banana or a small carrot, or the other way around... or something.

According to Babycenter.com Evie’s either the size of a big banana or a small carrot, or the other way around… or something.

And here’s the update on Evie’s Wonder Woman photo, which we had framed:

This will be hanging on the wall next to her crib.

This will be hanging on the wall next to her crib.

And just because it was on my camera with these other pictures, here’s an update on Chekhov:

"It's a trap!"

“It’s a trap!”

Different Princesses – Both Lame

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One of the drawbacks of having a baby is that someday we’ll have to go to kids’ movies with her.  I am not looking forward to this aspect of fatherhood, and a recent experience reaffirmed my reticence.  For research purposes (long story), I decided to rewatch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and then, a few days later I finally got around to watching Pixar’s Brave.  Both were lame.

First, there’s Snow White and the seven dwarzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

This is about as exciting as this movie gets.

This is about as exciting as this movie gets.

Seriously, nothing happens in this movie.  There’s a whole ten minute sequence in which the dwarfs… wait for it… sleep.  That’s it.  They sleep.  I considered joining them.  This whole movie is basically about 15 minutes long, but it fills two hours by dragging out every tiny little action that any of the characters take.  Snow White decides to clean the house?  Cool, that’ll kill fifteen minutes.  The Dwarfs get ready to go to work in the morning?  That’s a solid ten minutes.

It’s easy to say, “well, this was made in the 1930s, so we should cut it some slack,” but that doesn’t really work.  The Wizard of Oz came from that era, and it has a fast-paced plot, engaging music, and strong characters.  Snow White has none of those things.

The Wizard of Oz also makes it harder to dismiss Snow White‘s horrific gender politics.  Dorothy takes action and dreams of living an exciting life.  Her most famous song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is about wanting to escape drudgery and live an exciting and independent life.  Snow White just sits around waiting for her prince to come, hence her signature song, “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

Which is why I was excited to watch Brave (well, that and the fact that it’s set in Scotland).

Brave

I was reminded that I hadn’t seen Brave when the controversy erupted over Disney’s recent reworking of the character, turning Merida, the strong and reasonably proportioned heroine of the story, into a typical Disney princess, complete with a sexualized and anatomically impossible figure.

The gender politics of the movie were passable – Merida doesn’t want to be forced to marry one of the princes of the nearby clans, so she competes in the archery contest to win her hand and she wins.  So far so good.  Then, a witch turns her mother into a bear and Merida has to prevent her father from killing her mother while figuring out how to change her back.  What does that really have to do with the earlier framing device?  I’m still not sure.  The story was disjointed and the movie seemed to be going out of his way to make a feminist statement rather than just telling a good story with a strong and independent female lead.

If Evie ends up liking this movie and wanting to watch it over and over, as kids usually do, I’ll be fine with the message she’s getting from it.  Merida is, after all, strong, active, and independent.  As an example for young girls, she’ll do.  But as an example of good storytelling, this is one of Pixar’s shoddiest efforts to date.

And yet, it still got pretty good reviews, with most reviewers stating that the movie doesn’t live up to Pixar’s standard, but as a kid’s movie it was well above average.  So that, apparently, is what I have to look forward to.  If Brave is above average, I hate to think what average is, never mind below average.

Maybe I’ll just lie to Evie and tell her that she has some strange eye condition that will kill her if she watches animated features.

Children’s Book Review – #4

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A little while back my mom sent me a collection of children’s books from my own childhood as well as some that she collected during her time as an elementary school teacher.  I finally got around to reading a few of them, though there are still several to go.  I also read a few of the ones that we bought for ourselves but hadn’t had time to read.

This time, Norie and I both read the batch of books, and were more or less in agreement on all of them.  We did, though, go off on a tangent in which we argued the merits of that worst of all children’s books: Goodnight Moon.  But that’s a subject for a future post.  Here is my favorite picture from this batch, from Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse:

Psychedelic lizards are always a plus.

In the original, more realistic version, the lizard swallowed the mouse whole.

Here are the books we read for this round of reviews:

1.  Big Dog… Little Dog (P.D. Eastman) – I loved this book as kid, hence the pages are literally falling out in places.  There’s a simple charm that I can see appealing to a child, though the book isn’t particularly profound.  There was one thing that always bothered me about the book as a kid – I understand why it would be uncomfortable for a big dog to sleep in a little bed, but why would a little dog have a problem with a big bed?  Four-year-old Dave found this contrived.  36-year-old Dave agrees.  Grade: B-

2.  10,000 Dresses (Marcus Ewert) – This book tells the story of a little boy who dreams of wearing dresses.  Everyone tells him boys don’t wear dresses until eventually he finds a young woman who helps to make him one.  Throughout the story, the boy refers to himself as “she” while everyone else refers to him as “he.”  While I applaud the politics of that decision, the execution could have been clearer – I was confused at first, so I imagine a child might be as well.  Grade: B-

3.  The Polar Express (Chris Van Allsburg) – What a sentimental pile of drivel.  The story is so sappy that I wanted to disembowel myself, but the artwork was the bigger disappointment.  Every picture is a two-page spread, and yet none of them are grand or dramatic – they are all from weird angles and never show anything clearly.  The lighting is bad and the whole thing looks blurry and sad – not melancholy, as Christmas should be – just sad.  Grade: C-

4.  Miss Nelson is Missing (James Marshall) – As soon as I started reading this one I remembered liking it as a kid.  The artwork is bizarre enough to warrant a read on its own.  The story is a bit obvious, but fun nonetheless, though I remember as a kid thinking that the moral was to be sure to give every teacher crap no matter how evil and stern she might appear to be.  I don’t think that’s what the author was going for.  Grade: B+

5.  Just a Dream (Chris Van Allsburg) – I didn’t notice until I typed this just now that this was by the same author who did The Polar Express.  Man, that guy sucks.  Just a Dream, despite containing an environmental message that I would normally favor, is the worst book I’ve reviewed so far.  It’s terrible.  Just awful.  Before I finished the first paragraph I knew more or less how the story would play out.  Allsburg, though, forces the reader to suffer through episode after episode after episode of the same damn lesson until I was ready to put my own head in a smokestack just to make it all stop.  Not to mention, the alternate future that is supposed to be so appealing and drive home the final environmental message looked like a suburban nightmare that was just as frightening as all of the polluted scenes from the earlier sections (upon sections, upon sections) of the book.  Horrible.  Grade: F

6.  Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse (Leo Lionni) – The author of Swimmy delivers again with gorgeous artwork and a charming if simple tale.  As with Swimmy, though, this book has a subtle complexity that raises complicated questions about value and joy in life.  Lionni wrote a lot of books, and given his track record so far, I’m intrigued to read more.  Grade: B+

A New Living Room

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Dave and I have been busy the last couple of weekends. First, I dismantled half of the couch and moved it over to the other side of the living room. Then, I shifted our two chairs to where the couch used to be. The oatmeal chair will be replaced in a few weeks by a comfy glider for Evie. Quick side note: Dave noticed that we just started calling her Evie on the blog, but actually never wrote down her full name. It’s Evelyn Piper, Evie for short. Back to the changes, Dave dismantled our small entertainment shelf, took the doors off a built-in storage area that was part of the kitchen cabinetry, and placed all of the electronics in there.

In October, we’ll go ahead and remove the other part of the couch and make that part of the living room Evie’s space. She’ll need room for her tricked out baby swing and other baby accessories. Being confined to a crib is not really an option for the varmint.

Here’s the new space.

Living room 1

 

Living room 2