Friday, May 25, 2018

The Murderer's Ape - Five things to like.

Now, that's some title! The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius.

When Captain Henry Koskela is unjustly accused of murder, only his ship's engineer, the gorilla Sally Jones, believes that he is innocent.  She saw the whole thing!  She saw the man pull a gun on Henry.  She saw Henry chase the man down the pier.  She saw the man slip and fall into the water.  It was an accident.

But, she can't tell anyone.  Gorillas can not talk.  And the police search for her, as well, in order to put her in a zoo.

Sally Jones finds a friend in Ana, and a job with Ana's landlord, who builds and repairs musical instruments.  As the Chief, as Sally Jones refers to Henry in this account, sits in jail, Sally Jones tries to find proof of his innocence.

Here are five things I like about this book:

1. Accordions - mostly button variety, but there is one fabulous piano accordion in this book. 

2.  The settings:  Lisbon, Portugal is where a lot of the action takes place.  A Maharajah's palace in India also sees a lot of action. Let's not forget the ship that takes Sally Jones from Lisbon to India. Although dates are not mentioned, the time period seems to be in the 1910s or 1920s, not long after the end of the Portuguese monarchy.

3. The music.  I could almost hear Ana sing a fado - a melancholy Portuguese singing style.  Listen to a famous fado singer here.  Listen to the guitars and Amalia Rodrigues' voice.

4.  Sally Jones.  She is not a human in a gorilla's body.  Her thought processes seem to be different, more meticulous, perhaps.  That makes her an excellent ship's engineer.  Her heightened senses and her attention to detail save her more than once.

5.  The intrigue:  Why did the young man hire Koskela and Sally Jones to pick up four crates of "tiles"?  Who was the laughing man known as Papa Monforte?  How are the police involved?  Will the Chief ever be freed? 

I do have questions.  What happened to Ana's secret admirer?  What is next for  Sally Jones?  Will she head back to sea? Could we have another adventure, please?  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Storyteller? Teller? Oral Interpreter? Wordflinger?

If you search for the term "storyteller" online, you get posts about writing, music, and videos for little children.  You might get info on nationally famous tellers, such as Jay O'Callahan or Elizabeth Ellis or Donald Davis.  But a large percentage, (I'd estimate 80%), of the listings are for song and story writers.
How's this for a costumed children's performer?
The videos of lesser known storytellers telling to young children are charming, but they sometimes fall into the category of "cute video of Pirate Fred goofing around in front of the first grade".  (I suspect that videos of my classroom presentations would fall into that category as well.)

Professional storytellers, those who work hard every day to learn the best way to present stories to adults and to children, struggle with how to identify what they do.  The confusion between storytelling and story time is maddening.  Tellers find that what they do is equated with "reading aloud from books", rather than tailoring a story to their audience.  When audiences read or hear the word storytelling, they envision a motherly woman holding an open book in front of a group of preschoolers.

What should we call ourselves?  Tellers?  Are we tattling on our peers, or folklore characters?  (And when did folklore turn into "stories for children"?)
Oral Interpreters?  What does that even mean?  "Listen as I interpret the words of Homer." (from the original Greek, perhaps)? Story artists?  I see visions of someone quickly painting a "story" on a canvas.

Wordsmith means the same thing as poet or writer.  Wordsinger -  'nuff said. Aha!  Wordslinger!  I see impassioned spectacled poets declaiming during a Slam.  Wordwinger!  Word bringer!  Word clinger!  Word springer!  Ooh, I like that one! Word stingers - no, that's poets again.

OK, let's forget the word "word".  Are we tale tellers?  How is that different from storytellers?  Story performers?  One Person Shows?  Folklorists? Liars?  That one is used from time to time for Tall Tale festivals.

Eventually, we go back to storytellers, where we are lumped with preschool story readers and costumed children's entertainers.   Some of us use our years of experience, and the countless workshops and courses we've taken, to call ourselves Master Tellers.   If that title was reserved for people who had a certain amount of experience, or who had finished more than X number of workshops, it would carry more weight.

Until there is some kind of criteria levied on the title of Storyteller, every "life of the party" can hang the moniker of storyteller behind her name.  Those of us who work to present the very best stories that we can find will struggle to find a worthy title for what we do.

Oracle?  Hmmmm... oral historian?  He who talks out loud without ceasing?  Myth weaver?  Mythologist??  Wait, what about.... Word swinger??  Nice.

Friday, May 11, 2018


I've been "resting".  Isn't that what actors say when they have periods of downtime, planned or not?  And it's true.  I got new lenses.  They make it harder for me to read comfortably.  By the time, I remember that I have reading glasses by my bed, my eyes are so tired that I nod off, ten minutes into any stories.

So, I HAVE been resting - my eyes, that is.

A recent ad for the second book in the Longburrow series, The Gift of Dark Hollow, by Kieran Larwood, reminded me so much of Redwall that I stopped resting to tell you about it. (By the way, that ad allows you to request a galley of the new book.)

I actually read Podkin One-Ear, the first book in this series and it was pretty darn good.  It had quests and danger and good-vs-evil and clever rodents and disguises.  There was food - but not exactly Redwall worthy food - is there any series that reveled in food like Redwall? - and singing or, at least, cryptic rhymes.  But the battle against evil-spewing iron overrode all else.  Podkin One-Ear has the advantage(?) - or disadvantage - of being at least 100 pages shorter than a standard Redwall entry.

So, fellow Booklings, if on long evenings you have wished for a series like Redwall, where intrepid animals fight the followers of evil to bring peace to their woods and meadows, where swords and trickery combine in heart-racing battles, your wish may well have been answered.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

MunMun's the Word

MunMun by Jesse Andrews.
When I read that this book came out this month I was soooo excited.  Jesse Andrews is a brilliant writer.  I expected madcap humor and razor sharp wit.

I mean, here's the set up.  In an alternate world, the amount of wealth you have - Munmun - determines how BIG you are.  The poor are as small as rats.  But the very, very wealthy are as tall as skyscrapers.  How cool is that!

I was game.  Warner, our narrator is a littlepoor, the poorest rank or class of citizenry.  Since his father was killed when a boy - probably a Middlerich because he was normal sized - running from a bully stepped on Warner's dad, Warner, his older sister, Prayer, and his crippled mother, must come up with a way to get Munmuns and up their scale.

Plan 1:  Meet a nice Middlerich or even Middlepoor fellow in Dreamtime and get him to marry Prayer.  Confused yet?

See, in Dreamtime, everyone is the same size regardless of their size in Reallife.  PLUS, Warner makes the BEST dreams and he can include all kinds of people.

Plan 2:  Go to Middlerich Law School and get a law student to fall in love with Prayer.  So, off they go.  So does Usher, a Littlepoor fellow who is so in love with Prayer.  Usher can read; Usher is strong; Usher has a terrible stutter.

So when Plan 2 explodes in pieces, I stop waiting for the storyline to become funny.  Do you know why?  Because Warner's situation was just too real - as in REALLY real; as in change size to color or other differences and you have our life, right here, right now.

Littlepoors are our inner city residents, black, hispanic, just not WASP.  Everything is stacked against them and every time they find a way out, it gets blocked or taken away. (I know - huge generalization!)

So around the time that Warner gets into the home of a Big where he will go to school with MiddleRich's, I turned to the ending in hope....

I don't even remember what I was hoping for.  I am curious as to how Warner got where he ends up but I think I need a lot of sunshine and silliness before I can dive into the Yewess (their country) again.

People are going to be talking about this one, fersure.  I can't stop thinking about it and I didn't even read the whole book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


I went for my Medicare Wellness "event" today.  Your tax dollars at work!!!  And really, what else would you want to spend your tax dollars on but the chance to keep me around long enough to record my new song - or a podcast - or write that, no, THOSE books I keep nattering on about writing?

Growing old is ... better than NOT growing old. 

There are some things that I will never get the chance to do.  Those things are pretty much related to my aging body and to my lack of interest in doing them; i.e. I will never have a second child; I will never climb Mt. Everest.

But important things like -
Make a difference
Write a book
Paint a picture
Help a child find their passion - for this week - and another one next week
Sing a song
Share a story
Learn to dance
Understand physics??? -
there is still a lot of time to do those things.

I wish I could decide where to place the time I have left.  There are so many, many things I hope to do.  My biggest wish of all?  It's that everyone realizes that it is Not Too Late to do most of the things you dreamed of doing.  In the doing of those things, you will ease the regret that might come from those dreams that will never come true.

I wish you hope!

Friday, April 20, 2018

They Did NOT make the List - not even the addendum!

I cap my book list for KUCLC at 7 pages.  That gives me about half a page to brag on myself - my 30+ years in public libraries, this blog, my kids' CD - and to give contact info so people can help me find good books.

THEN, I usually add another page or two of books I forgot.  The following books are noteworthy and I MIGHT mention them tomorrow but, they didn't make either list.  Some books did not make the list because I want to feature them in a future list.  Some did not make the list because they are fluff. If I mention them, it will be to illustrate a trend in children's literature - because I am a Trend Identifier.

The Worthy Ones:
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. Dial Books, (9780735228511), 2018.  When Pakistan and India are divided there is wide spread strife and violence among the various religious sects.  Nisha and her father, brother, and amah must flee - on the titular night train - to save their lives. The book is a series of journal entries that Nisha writes as letters to her Muslim mother, who died when she and her brother were born.
Observations: 1. Sometimes a book is worthy because it brings attention to a concept, a philosophy, a time period or an event that needs a spotlight.  MG, religious conflict, war, discrimination

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Dutton Books, (9780525555360), 2017.  Aza suffers from anxiety and OCD but she keeps it together.  When the search for a missing billionaire offers a prize for finding him, Aza's best friend, Daisy hatches a plan to find him. Since Aza went to camp with the billionaire's son, Daisy is sure they can get info that will lead to the runaway dad.  That's as far as I got.
My observations: 1.  John Green's writing is smooth as glass, a joy to read. 2. Reading about anxiety disorders and OCD behavior makes me uncomfortable because I am that person - the one who starts having the symptoms that she reads about.  3.  When I finally finish reading this book, I expect to put it on a list because I heart the Green Brothers.  YA, mental illness, fugitives

Some Fluff!
First: Fluff is good.  There is nothing wrong with an amusing book that makes a kid giggle - unless it's a mean giggle and then, well, then we will have to have an intervention and years of therapy to deal with the trauma.  That said, the success of the Wimpy Kid and the Dork Diaries have caused a wave of imitators like:

Take the Mummy and Run: the Riot Brothers are on a Roll by Mary Amato. Holiday House, (9780823438686), 2017.  This is book #4 in this series about Wilbur and Orville Riot and their detective efforts or missions or whatever.  I did not actually read this book. I read a page or two.
My Observations: 1. It's funny - funny dialogue, goofy people with goofy mannerisms. 2.  There actually seems to be a story going on here.  Some of these fluff books are all jokes and very little story.  Stories are good.  MG, humor, mystery

Stick Dog Craves Candy by Tom Watson. Harper, (9780062410948), 2107.  I don't know about this book.  I read a few pages and it moves very slowly.  It appears to be about dogs who are looking for food.
My Observations: 1. Lots of people think that they can think like dogs.  I think that this author thinks he's one of those people. 2.  Dogs really like food. 3. I find it hard to imagine that dogs can understand concepts like "witches" but these dogs seem to be very frightened of "witches". 4. This MIGHT be a Halloween themed book; witches, candy, also orange heads.  5. One of these observations is not like the others.  Can you guess which one? MG, humor, dogs, candy, witches

Welp, that's it for now.  I hope to see some of my scads and hordes of readers at the Kutztown University Children's Literature Conference tomorrow.