Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happiness is...a new love.

Sorry, not that kind of love (though I promise to shout it from the rooftops if that ever does come to pass). Nope, I'm talking the love that can only come when you hear the dulcet tones of male voices blended in beautiful harmony and mixed with some rockin' banjo picking. My ears are in ecstasy. Take a listen.

The Avett Brothers, ladies and gentlemen. Aren't they wonderful?

They're even fun without the banjo.

Now the only I spend some big bucks to go to a music festival where I will have to sit all day in order to hear them play who knows when in the line-up? Or do I hold out and wait to hear them on their own sometime in the future? Ah, the dilemma!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happiness is...surviving a disaster. (Part 2)

As someone said at church today: Some people have Shark Week, we have Disaster Week. And we've all lived to tell about it. 

Irene didn't affect us nearly as much as we'd all anticipated (at least in my neck of the woods.) Aside from a few broken branches and a bit of flooding in our basement (nothing that a healthy stack of towels couldn't handle) you'd never even know she'd been here. If there's one thing I've learned since living out on the East Coast it's how to panic. I suppose with this many people crammed into the same spot the over-dramatized and dire predictions do encourage people to be more prepared than would otherwise be, but I have yet to experience something that lives up to its pre-event hype. (I suppose that's probably a good thing.)

In the midst of all the chaos and upheaval (both real and incredibly over-hyped) though, I managed to find a few random things that made me smile this week:
  • Cheesy mid-week movies with even cheesier lines that stay stuck in your head for days afterwards

(They seek him here, they seek him there,
those Frenchies seek him everywhere
Is he in heaven or is he in hell,
That damned illusive Pimpernell?)
  • A bird wandering the aisles in the grocery store
  •  A double rainbow
  • Made up words-hurriquake (goes nicely with snowmageddon, don’t you think?)
  • Choristers with a sense of humor: today at church we sang “Master the Tempest is Raging” and “How Firm a Foundation”
  • A hurricane induced movie marathon (Jane Eyre…the good one, Charade, Just Go With It, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Vantage Point and a few episodes of Suits)
  • Fresh figs (surprisingly delicious, way better than disgusting Fig Newtons)
  • Getting lost in a good book
  • Hints of amazing sunsets (which never really happen out here because of all the darned trees)
  • Potatoes masquerading as cupcakes
  • Plans to re-decorate my bedroom (there will be paint involved, I just haven’t decided what color yet)
  • Finding out that Richard Castle books really do exist! (sort of)

Of course I didn't have my camera with me for any of these events so my goal for this last official week of summer is to take my camera everywhere, capture some amazing last official week of summer moments and blog about at least 3 or 4 of them to give you all something to read about.  Here’s hoping there are no more disasters coming our way to throw a cog in my works (volcanoes? Plagues? Rivers turning to blood? I’ll have to re-read my Old Testament to see what else we’re missing.)

So, dear readers, what do you have planned for this week? Please, tell me all about it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happiness is...surviving a disaster.

Okay, so disaster is a rather strong word. Disturbance is probably more appropriate.

About 1:50 this afternoon the majority of the East Coast experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. It was big enough to shake things up a bit but not to do any real damage (at least that I've heard so far.)

When the first tremor rolled through my co-worker and I both thought initially it was just a big truck driving past or someone knocking something over upstairs. The sound came first followed by some brief shaking and after we had realized it was something bigger than a truck our thoughts wandered in the direction of explosions and possible terrorist attacks. It all stopped as quickly as it had started but then a second wave hit.  This one was more pronounced and much more earthquake like.

We all congregated out at the main library desk to exclaim over the strangeness of it and share our brief stories (it's amazing how much everyone had the need to tell everyone else [who had also been there experiencing the exact same thing] just what it was like and what had happened) and scouring the internet for proof that it was really just an earthquake. (I wasn't here in the DC area 10 years ago when the events of 9/11 occurred but I can only imagine how many people had moments of terror and flashbacks to that fateful day.)  And then we basically went back about our business (until we came upon someone new to share our story with.)

Several locations in DC were evacuated and eventually the city decided to shut down the library early in order to do some safety sweeps and check gas lines and a few things so my roommates and I reunited back at our place (with only a few things knocked over as proof of the day's events) to again share our stories and experiences of what happened.

For a relative non-event it has given me a lot to think about. First, I need to make sure I have an emergency plan in place in case something truly traumatic and disastrous ever does happen. Second, I'm grateful that it wasn't any worse than it actually was. Third, I'm grateful for all of the people who called or texted or emailed to check in and make sure I was okay (thank you all!) Fourth, I was glad to have had some time recently with my family while at the same time being sad and frustrated that they live so far away. Fifth, as a follower of Christ who is looking forward (albeit sometimes with trepidation) to his second coming, I know that these kinds of disasters/experiences will continue to happen and will increase in severity and I ready? What do I need to be doing to be sure my life is in order (physically, spiritually, emotionally etc.)? Am I pleased with where I am and who I am? Are there fences I need to mend or traits I need to develop or weaknesses I need to overcome? Yes, of course there are. And today has been the perfect (gentle) reminder that this life is, indeed, the time to prepare to meet god.

So, friends, I would encourage you to pause for a moment after you read this entry and take quick stock of your life. Hug your friends. Tell your family you love them. Share your story with someone or take some time to let others share their story with you. Make those changes or try something you've been putting off doing, waiting for a better time.  There is no better time than now. There is no other time but now. Live it, love it.

And may the rest of the week be a bit less eventful for us all. Sweet dreams!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happiness is...a vacation!

·     I’m baaack! Did ya miss me?  I missed you! (Wait. Is there anyone still out there?! I know.  I've been quiet a long time.) It’s been a great couple of weeks and it’s been tough settling back into reality.

It gets a bit harder every time I leave my family; each time I hug my Grandpa I’m afraid it will be for the last time and my nephews grow so much I hardly recognize them. But it’s nice to be back on a bit of a schedule and catching up on my sleep (sort of.)

I’m also looking forward to some new entries and a little revitalization of the blog after the inundation of book/reading entries the past couple of months. But today I’m still working on jet lag and I have way too many photos to sort through so you get another list; just a quick highlight of some of my favorite vacation moments. Enjoy!
  • Baby hugs and kisses
  • Mr. Potato Head (my little nephew is obsessed--it was great fun to watch him play with one for hours on end!)
  • Weddings (while ½ of me is depressed by them the other ½ of me finds them strangely hopeful and I love seeing what people do with the colors, flowers and such...the free food’s always nice too! ;)
  • Amazing food
    • Pickle pie, pinto bean pie (specialties of this fun little diner in Bicknell, UT)
    • Shakes (thick enough to eat with a spoon, just like I like them…every single day!!)
    • Jackfruit sticky rice (even better than mango if you can believe it!)
    • Dark European chocolate
    • Perfectly ripe, juicy watermelon
  • Being pampered; a main-pedi, massage, haircut, and some much needed retail therapy
  • A deep breath
  • A couple of fun re-reads (I rarely allow myself the luxury of re-reading because I feel guilty I’m not doing something to make my TBR pile a little shorter, but I ran out of the books I brought with me and was left to choose from my mother’s book shelf. So, I spent a few hours indulging in a trip down memory lane while reading Dealing with Dragons and The Prisoner of Zenda….good times!)
  • Fun movies (finishing out the Summer of superheroes with a viewing of Captain America)
  • Listening to my Grandpa reminisce and tell me he loves me
  • Staying up until 2 am catching up with an old friend
  • Afternoon naps and sleeping late
  • Dinner with my Grandma
  • Josh Groban, live!
Are you jealous? You should be!!
  • Crazy pianists (this guy opened up for Josh Groban and he was pretty darn amazing)
  • Exuberant air keyboard players (the guy sitting next to us at the concert was REALLY into it and REALLY entertaining)
  • My first author comment on the blog!!! (it’s nice to know other people read this, even if they do it just because of signals/alerts for web mentions of their books)
  • Riding a carousel (being with 2 cute little boys didn't hurt much either)
  • The astoundingly glorious nature of nature
    • Red rocks
    • Geysers
    • The endlessly deep blue skies you can only get in the desert
    • Big horn sheep, bison, elk, bats, pikas
    • 10 gazillion stars (at least!)
    • The crisp, clean scents of pine and sage in the air
    • Shifting, luminous clouds
    • Absolute silence

You can see why it’s been hard to come back.  Who wants reality after all of that?!

Thanks for checking in again after my hiatus.  Hopefully I’ll come up with enough to keep you coming back for more on a regular-ish basis. Have yourselves a fabulously wonderful weekend and then share with me what you did. Can’t wait to hear about it!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #42)


I'm cheating a tiny bit. I had started an adult fiction book recommended to me by a co-worker and try as I might I just couldn't stick with it (why does everything have to be about sex?) so I abandoned it to try something else. However, my self-imposed time-limit was staring me in the face and I needed one final review (not to mention I had some library due dates to comply with before leaving on my trip) so I'm reviewing this book which I am actually reading but haven't actually finished yet. Just FYI.


Creating Your Best Life
Author: Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP and Dr. Michael B. Frisch
Pages: 270
Age Range: Adult
Published: 2009
Genre: Non-fiction/Self-help
Cover Score: **
Overall Grade: ***
Rating: PG


The subtitle for this book is "The Ultimate Life List Guide".  As you all know i am a sucker for lists. I lurv them! And that is why I first picked up this book.  Actually I didn't even pick it up. I saw the title in my library catalog while I was doing a search for a patron and put it on hold for myself sight unseen. I'm only a bout half way through it at the moment and I haven't followed all of their recommendations and activities listed at the end of each chapter but I am taking it with me on vacation and intend to do some serious mulling and reflecting while I'm in the airport and on the plane.

The authors begin by discussing the idea behind life lists, the psychology of it all and how they can be used to help a person find direction and accomplish their goals. There is a bit of research quoted and real-life situations and scenarios relayed but the main purpose is to get the reader to put it all into action. Each chapter ends with a brief re-cap of the important points covered and then a few exercises or lists to create.

There's the typical focus on a 'bucket list' or 100 things to do before you die but also creating more happiness moments in your life, building self-esteem, being more productive, finding your talents and passion, reaching your potential, creating a life mission statement, being well-rounded and setting goals in all areas of your life and more. There's not really any new information here but I love that it's all in one place.  The back matter contains some black lines of the worksheets/lists they ask you to think about and there's a list of additional resources (all websites) in case you need more.

I would definitely recommend this for anyone feeling a bit lost or unproductive or needing to reevaluate or make changes or shift directions in their lives. (I'll let you know if that changes after I actually finish it!)

This was a rather fitting finish for my experiment as it's given me some encouragement to reflect on where I am and what I want to be doing with my life. I realized the other day that my year is more than half over and I haven't given a lot of thought to my new year's resolutions since maybe March or April. I've also sort of bailed on my list of things to do this summer (and summer is quickly running out!) So, now that my time crunch is off and things have calmed down a bit at work it's time to re-focus on getting back on track and being a bit more productive.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wow! My goal was to post one book a day for six weeks. It was a little ambitious given my increased schedule at work (which is when I do the majority of my reading) but I made it!  So here is a breakdown of what all went on:

  • 12 young adult books
  • 12 juvenile fiction books
  • 12 picture books/easy/beginning readers
  • 6 adult books
That adds up to 42 books with an average of one book per day
  • 35 of those were fiction
  • 7 were non-fiction
  • 2 epistolary novels
  • 2 sci-fi
  • 4 auto/biographies
  • 7 historical fiction
  • 7 fantasy
  • 2 sci-fi
  • 19 realistic fiction
  • 2 horror/suspense
(several overlapped genres or didn't fit neatly into one of the above so don't panic if the numbers don't add up!)
  • 32 women authors
  • 12 male authors
(with a couple having multiple authors, so again the numbers don't quite come out even)
  • 16 were illustrated
  • 31 were published in 2010 or 2011
  • 11 were published prior to 2010

For a grand total of 8253 pages and who knows how many hours and minutes of reading!  Whew!

I didn't get around to reading The Red Tent (it's my own personal copy and I had to keep pushing it aside for the books that came from the library and had return dates) but it's going home with me on the plane. I also missed out on Dorothy Parker and the Outlander series. They are both still on my list so never fear. I think Dorothy Parker will be first up when I get back. It seems like one that can be read in small chunks since it's mostly poems, articles and quotes. Outlander may still have to wait for a bigger chunk of free time. Oh well.

I've also realized a few things. I'm not overly discriminating in my reading. I didn't give any books just 1 star (though I had 2 I abandoned that probably would have qualified if I'd finished them) and only 2 got 2 stars. Most of them fell in the mid-range with 3 and 4 stars.  I did have a few favorite reads that garnered a 5-star rating: Me...Jane, Blackout, and Wrapped were probably my absolute favorite of the lot. I may go back and amend my Kat Incorrigible review to make it a 5 as well since I've come to like it more and more since finishing it.

Fantasy/sci-fi has been my genre of choice for the last little while but my reading trend for the past 6 weeks surprised me by leaning more towards the realistic fiction and my favorite reads would all qualify as historical fiction. And as the book I am (slowly) working on writing myself would also qualify as historical fiction I payed particular attention to those and realized how picky I am in wanting resources notated and fact/fiction clearly distinguished. It's definitely something I will keep in mind as I write.

None of the adult books I read made a truly lasting impression but I definitely feel a gap in the adult reading I do. I'm going to re-double my efforts to fit quality adult reading into my life (and am more than willing to take suggestions as to what I should read first!) I also need to search out more male authors. They were sadly outnumbered by women over the past few weeks.

I have really enjoyed having a bit of a challenge to keep me going during the wretched heat we've been experiencing this summer. I will continue to highlight some of my favorite reads periodically on the blog and may even do the Summer Reading extravaganza again next year. I may also adjust my format just a bit as I go so watch for what the future might bring!

But just now I intend to spend the next week and a half relaxing; playing with my darling little nephews, hiking some gorgeous red rock canyons in Southern Utah, wandering the vast beauty of Yellowstone, spending some quality time with my grandparents, getting a massage and a haircut and a pedicure, basking in the glory that is Josh Groban's voice and eating my weight in Arctic Circle shakes (I hate that I can't get a decent shake out here on the East Coast!) Yep, that just about covers it.

Thanks for indulging me in my experiment. See you all in mid-August and happy reading!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #41)

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
Age Range: 8+
Published: 2011
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: ****
Overall Grade: ***
Rating: G


Dini loves watching Bollywood movies with her friend Maddie in Maryland.  The two girls know every song and every dance and Dini's even taught her friend a few of the Indian phrases she knows (and often asks her dad to help her translate the ones she doesn't!) They especially love Dolly Singh, the beautiful star of their favorite fillums (as they are called in Bombay.)

But when Dini's mom announces that she finally got her grant to work in a small medical clinic in a small village in India, Dini is crushed.  At least if she were going to be in Bombay she may have a chance to meet Dolly in person, but Swapnagiri doesn't even show up on any of Dini's maps. And leaving Maddie for two whole years, could things get any worse?

When Dini's family arrives in Swapnagiri a million adventures and coincidences await them. It's almost like one of Dolly's movies. There are monkeys and goats, noble postmen and a singing car, a strange girl who can imitate any sound she hears, curry puffs with chocolate and wait for it, yes, Dolly herself!

After suffering a broken heart she has sequestered herself in the same small community of guest cottages where Dini's family is staying. She's determined never to work again (much to the dismay of her agent and studio executives) and when Dini finds out she puts a plan into action to not only meet Dolly but to fix things up with her and her former flame so that all will be right with the world again.

Chaos and hilarity ensues along the lines of a screwball comedy with people turning up at exactly the right moment and the kids outsmarting the adults. It's far-fetched and predictable but also silly and enjoyable.  Kids will have a great time. There are only a few cultural references, the story revolving mostly around the characters, but there is a hint of insight into India primarily the film industry. A quick, cute read.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #40)

Just Desserts
Author: Hallie Durand
Illustrator: Christine Davenier
Pages: 190
Age Range: 6+
Published: 2010
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: **
Overall Grade: ****

In the spirit of Junie B., Clementine and Ramona comes a feisty new heroine with problems of her own and hilarious solutions that will have readers sympathizing and laughing out loud.

Donahue Penelope Schneider (nicknamed Dessert by her grandmother) is the oldest of four kids and her annoying siblings are ruining her life! Her little sister Charlie, in an effort to learn good manners, has ceased to do everything Dessert asks her to do. Wolfie decides to help out by cleaning Dessert's room with pink toothpaste and Kleenex. Mushy ruins Dessert's chances for dessert when he pulls the tablecloth and all its toppings onto the floor of their parent's restaurant. And that's just the beginning!

Inspired by her teacher's enthusiastic lessons regarding the Revolutionary War, Dessert decides to declare her own independence from younger siblings!  She creates a club and invites her classmates to join.  She makes membership stickers, collects dues, and promises to solve all of their annoying sibling problems. But things are a little harder than she anticipates.  Soon she has angry club participants (and their parents) demanding their dues back (which she'd spent on several coveted hot lunches). But Charlies surprises her by coming to the rescue and things work out after all.

Dessert has a great voice. I laughed right out loud at a few points. I was also impressed by the realistic adults Dessert interacts with. Her teacher is the kind that every child wishes she had, fun and enthusiastic and full of grand ideas. She's a great balance to the slightly overworked and frustrated parents who often fail to give Dessert the attention she wants simply because she is the oldest (ah, I can relate to that!) They are still great parents, just not perfect. It was also refreshing to read a modern-day story where there is more than one or two kids in the family.

There are some black and white sketch illustrations scattered throughout the text and even a few of Dessert's favorite dessert recipes included in the back. This is a great early reader chapter book perfect for kids who have graduated from the simple beginning readers but still need really small chapters and some pictures to keep them going. Fun stuff!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #39)

Where She Went
Author: Gayle Forman
Pages: 264
Age Range: 14+
Published: 2011
Genre: YA/Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Grade: ***
Rating: PG-13 (language including several f-bombs, sexual references, drinking/smoking)

**If you haven’t read If I Stay yet drop what you’re doing and read it, now. It’s beautifully written and poignant and highly superior to this follow-up book. Also, this review does contain spoilers (a giant one that you’ll probably have figured out about 5 seconds into reading), just FYI.

It’s been three years since Mia’s accident, her miraculous recovery and her decision to attend Julliard and walk out of Adam’s life forever.

Adam is living the high life. His band Shooting Star has become an overnight sensation, he’s making more money than he knows what to do with, touring the world and living in L.A. with his celebrity girlfriend Bryn Shraeder, the envy of everyone he comes in contact with.

But Adam is slowly falling apart. He constantly doubts himself, his band mates hardly speak to him, he’s moody and temperamental, he can’t sleep without a million prescription drugs in his system, he feels lost and alone and he is wracked with guilt that he didn’t do more to change the way things worked out with Mia.

The night before he’s to leave on tour he begins wandering NYC in search of some anonymity and anything to make him feel better. And that’s when he notices the sign announcing Mia performing that night at Carnegie Hall. He buys a ticket just to listen to her play but after the concert she summons him backstage and the two have embark on the night of their lives.

She convinces him to wander the streets with her, visiting some of her favorite haunts before they both leave on their respective tours to exotic places. He agrees hoping he’ll have the guts to confront her about why she left and how it devastated him.  They spend hours skirting around the issue, avoiding talking about her family or anything of real substance until it’s time for them to say goodbye. She’s ready to send him on his way and he loses it. He finally cries and screams and voices so many of the feelings he’s been holding onto for years along with the frustrations of his current situation. She confesses that she hadn’t planned to cut all ties but when she got to Julliard and everyone treated her like a fragile child she knew she needed to make some changes.

I won’t tell you how it ends but I will tell you that I was satisfied even though I didn’t love this book half as much as I loved the first one. It was full of emotion and hurt and frustration but I think those feelings didn’t translate as well for me as the issues of choice and reflection and hope did. There was love and loss in both novels but again I was more captivated by the way they were brought up in Mia’s story than in Adam’s. It was still a great book but I was waiting for it to reach that state of powerful emotion that I felt during If I Stay but it just never quite made it to that point for me.

Hand this book to teens struggling with a variety of emotions, loss, depression, grief etc. Or read it yourself, but not without reading If I Stay first.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #38)

Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Author: Barbara Nichol
Illustrator: Scott Cameron
Pages: 32
Age Range: 13+
Published: 1993
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover Score: *** 
Overall Grade: ****
Rating: G

A fictional uncle and nephew exchange a series of letters concerning the great Ludwig Van Beethoven who has moved into the spare room of the boy's house in Vienna.

The boy, whose father has recently passed away, begins by petitioning his uncle for help. Mr. Beethoven is a madman who is making their family the laughing stock of the city. He stands near his window naked, he pours pitchers of water over his head, he stomps his feet and growls and groans like an animal and has a horrible temper. The uncle admonishes him to be patient, reminds him that Beethoven is deaf and lonely and has had a hard life. The uncle leaves on a trip to Bonn, the city where Beethoven was born, and promises to do some investigating to see if there is anything he can tell the boy that might help.

Facts, behaviors and characteristics are swapped back and forth through the letters dated 17 September 1822 through 31 March 1825. During this time Beethoven is composing his Ninth Symphony and the denouement is the standing ovation of the performance. The uncle also inserts a few narrative comments throughout and one created 29 March 1827, three days after Beethoven's death, adding some additional information and context. 

This is a great introduction to a pivotal figure in musical history. You get a feel for who he was and why he acted the way he did as well as for how he was viewed by his contemporaries. Again, my only complaint would be that there is no timeline or indication of which things are factual and which are hypothetical. One would assume the story is based on fact but without doing a bit of research on your own there is no way to be sure. Still, it would be an ideal supplement to a unit on music or history or biographies or Austria and is the perfect length (which lovely pictures) for younger readers.

Apparently there are audio CDs and movie versions available that have the narrative story intertwined with snippets of the composer's music. It's also just one of a series spotlighting various other artists as well such as Vivaldi, Mozart, Handel and Tchaikovsky.  How is it I have missed these? Not sure, but I will definitely be looking them up at work tomorrow!

And on a totally random and unrelated topic, just wanted to share a song that's been playing non-stop on my ipod lately. (Hmm, maybe if we asked we'd find out they were influenced by Beethoven? Yeah, let's go with that!)

Have I mentioned that I heart banjos and fiddles? Yep. I do!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #37)

Bird in A Box
Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Pages: 278
Age Range: 8+
Published: 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Grade: ****
Rating: PG (some violence)

Three kids find themselves brought together thanks to boxing champ Joe Louis. Hibernia, Willie and Otis each take turns narrating chapters of the text covering the year from June 1936 to June 1937.
Hibernia is the daughter of a single father preacher. Her mother left just after Hibernia was born to pursue her dream of singing. Hibernia has never known anything more about her but inherited her mother’s gift for song. She has a formal sort of relationship with her stern father, which progresses and improves as the story unfolds, and he allows Hibernia some freedom to practice her singing and begins to answer some of her questions about her mother.
Willie, though he’s not actually an orphan, has found his way to Mercy Orphanage. His father, Sampson, is a no-good drunk and after he’d beat Willie and burned his hands practically to stumps, his mother told him how to find the place and made him promise her he’d stay there safe until she could come get him.  He’s a boxer at heart but doesn’t know what he’ll do with his damaged hands and broken heart.
Otis recently lost both of his parents in a car accident. He finds that the easiest form of communication for him comes through the riddles his father used to tell him. Leila, one of the orphanage’s overseers, and the new boy Willie understand that and the two boys become fast friends. They push and support each other in the right places without really knowing that they’re doing it. They also tune into the small radio Otis inherited from his father to listen to the fights, following their favorite, The Brown Bomber, most closely. And later, when Hibernia’s church choir gives a performance at the orphanage, Otis is smitten and the three find their lives overlapping.
Each child is somehow swept up in the boxing contagion that gripped the nation during the Great Depression. The world needed something to cheer about and boxing somehow fit that need. The black community was doubly proud of their hometown boy becoming not only a national hero but eventually the world champion.
I really enjoyed this little book. I have to admit I went into it thinking it was about something else completely and was pleasantly surprised even after I realized it was primarily about boxing (a sport which I loathe and can find pretty much zero merit in.) The voices are well-done, each being unique and having just a flavor of dialect adding some authenticity without making the text hard to follow. The scene is set perfectly. The time period is clear and acts as a backdrop without heavy-handedly taking over the story. There’s a bit of harsh reality mixed in but it’s primarily a story about fighting when you’re down and persevering despite the odds. There’s hope and humor and a feeling of pride and optimism that easily balances out the darker moments.
There’s also an extensive author’s note at the back that gives a brief bio of Joe Louis and why he meant so much to the country and notes about the radio commentary found throughout the text (which is taken from actual broadcasts.) Other fact vs. fiction moments are discussed and there are brief biographical sketches of other famous people and places mentioned in the story (Ella Fitzgerald, The Savoy Ballroom, Max Schmeling etc.) to give some additional context for readers who may not be familiar with them. The author also explains how many of the stories were based on things that actually happened to members of her family.

This is a great little peek into the time period, full of heart.  Highly recommended!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #36)

Author: Erica S. Perl
Illustrator: Julia Denos
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3+
Published: 2010
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Grade: ****
Rating: G

Ida is on her way to school with a new lunch box and her friend Dotty. Dotty is her invisible friend who fits right in with the other friends in Ida’s class (Max had sea serpents named Pete and Repeat, Benny’s friend Spike looks a bit like an armadillo.) But when winter break is over Dotty is the only friend who comes back to class and many of the children make fun of Ida and her babyish ways. Under a bit of peer pressure Ida tries to send Dotty on her way but Dotty refuses to leave and instead chases after the girls who are making fun of Ida and knocks one to the ground. Their teacher makes them apologize to each other and convinces Ida to find a way to better control Dotty when she confesses that she has an invisible friend of her own.

This is a darling little twist on the concept of an invisible friend with validation for those kids who just haven’t quite outgrown their need for one yet. The lovely illustrations of Ms. Denos are the perfect addition to the simple text. Ida has a smattering of freckles across her pert nose, choppy (verging on the look of self-cut) hair, and a brilliant sense of style. And Dotty is gigantic and bright and playfully cumbersome.

I first fell in love with her work in her gorgeous autobiography of Audrey Hepburn, Just Being Audrey (written by Margaret Cardillo), and will be watching for more from her in the future. 
(Isn't that just perfect? And who doesn't need a bit more Audrey in their lives?) 

Or you can check out her website where she blogs about her artistic process and all the fun happenings in her life. If you ever need a bit of cheering up or some inspiration, this is the place to go.

Are there any authors/illustrators/famous people whose blogs you stalk/follow? Who are your favorites?