Review of the Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson

September 10th, 2014

great_greene_heist_largeThe Great Greene Heist

Saving the School, One Con at a Time

by Varian Johnson

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2014. 226 pages.
Starred Review

This is a Heist Novel set in middle school, and it’s tightly plotted and brilliantly executed. On top of that we’ve got a diverse cast of characters, nicely reflecting middle school students today. In the tradition of heist stories, the caper is pulled off by a team working together.

The heist in this case is to steal the student council election. But don’t worry – it’s ethical because the principal has accepted a bribe to make Keith Sinclair win. Keith would have the power to cut funding for all the student clubs he doesn’t like – and he doesn’t like any that Jackson Greene is involved in.

The book starts, expertly, in the middle of the action. Jackson Greene already has a history of schemes and cons. After getting caught on “The Kelsey Job,” otherwise known as “The Mid-Day PDA,” he is not allowed to carry a cell phone, and has promised to reform. And his friend, Gaby, hates him. Because Jackson was caught in the principal’s office, kissing another girl.

Gaby de la Cruz is the one running against Keith Sinclair, and she’s the one who should win. However, as it becomes clear that Keith is going to use shady means to win, Jackson reluctantly agrees to bring his formidable talents to bear on making sure Gaby gets elected.

The characters in this novel are varied and realistic middle school students. The election is taking place the same day as the end of year formal, so there’s added tension as to who’s attending the formal with whom. I love the way Jackson is brilliant in planning a job – yet as clueless as any thirteen-year-old boy about girls. The action keeps moving, so you never want to put down the book.

varianjohnson.com
scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires

September 9th, 2014

most_magnificent_thing_largeThe Most Magnificent Thing

by Ashley Spires

Kids Can Press, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I love this book. A tribute to the power of failure.

A girl has a wonderful idea. She’s going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She enlists the help of her dog best friend and assistant. She takes a big pile of what looks like junk and sets to work.

But when it’s finished:

They are shocked to discover that the thing isn’t magnificent.
Or good. It isn’t even kind-of-sort-of okay. It is all WRONG.
The girl tosses it aside and gives it another go.

This happens over and over. The thing isn’t right. She keeps trying again, adapting her design. It never turns out magnificent.

Finally, getting angrier and angrier, she crunches her finger.

The pain starts in her finger.
It rushes up to her brain…
…and she EXPLODES!
It is not her finest moment.

However, her friend the dog convinces her to take a walk and cool down. And when she returns, she sees her failures in a whole new light. She sees parts of different contraptions that are actually quite right. (And in the background, we see bystanders appreciating her efforts as well.)

The new perspective gives her the energy and excitement to try once more. The final result is not perfect, but it’s truly magnificent.

I love the fine print on the page opposite the title: “The artwork in this book was rendered digitally with lots of practice, two hissy fits and one all-out tantrum.”

This book is a beautiful tribute to persistence, hard work – and failure.

kidscanpress.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of A Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz

September 9th, 2014

boy_and_jaguar_largeA Boy and a Jaguar

by Alan Rabinowitz
illustrated by Cátia Chen

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography, with Alan Rabinowitz telling his own story. The book stands out because his story is riveting and inspiring, and the paintings by Cátia Chen are a perfect match.

Alan Rabinowitz has always been a stutterer. When he was a child, he was put in a class for disturbed children, because the teachers said that whenever he tried to speak, it disrupted the class.

He explains his predicament simply:

I try to explain, but my mouth freezes, just as I knew it would. I am a stutterer. If I try to push words out, my head and body shake uncontrollably.

However, the book begins with Alan standing in front of his favorite animal, a jaguar, at the Bronx Zoo. He explains why:

I can do two things without stuttering. One is sing – only I can’t sing well – and the other is talk to animals.

Alan builds a special relationship with animals. People treat him as broken because he stutters.

I know that my pets listen and understand. Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t get the words out. So people ignore or misunderstand or hurt them, the same way people ignore or misunderstand or hurt me.

I make a promise to my pets.

I promise that if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.

Alan gets through school and college and learns to speak without stuttering, but he still feels broken on the inside. So he sets off to study animals.

Later, in Belize, I am the first person to study jaguars. The jungle makes me feel more alive than I have ever felt.

He’s in a wonderfully atmospheric jungle scene for this spread.

But jaguars are being hunted. Alan needs to speak to the prime minister of Belize for a plea to set up a jaguar preserve. Can he do it without stuttering? Can he keep his promise he made to animals in his youth?

The book finishes off with an amazing encounter. As an adult, back in the jungle studying jaguars, he comes face to face with a large male jaguar.

I know I should feel frightened, but I squat down and look into the jaguar’s eyes, just as I had with the sad old female at the Bronx Zoo. But this animal isn’t sad. In this animal’s eyes are strength and power and sureness of purpose.

We are both whole.

We are both at home.

I lean toward him a little, the way I had at the Bronx Zoo so many years before.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

This is a truly beautiful book with an inspiring message. This is a case where what stands out is the strong story and you realize later that because it’s true, technically, it’s a biography, not a storybook. I do hope that readers will find it in the nonfiction section. We’re going to have to make an effort to pull it out and give it the attention it deserves.

panthera.org
stutteringhelp.org
hmhbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Sonderling Sunday – Hinunter, Hinunter, Hinunter

September 7th, 2014

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday – That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. This week it’s back to the delightful book that started it all — Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, by James Kennedy, otherwise known as The Order of Odd-fish.

Sonderlinge 2

Last time, we left off on page 210 in English, Seite 265 auf Deutsch. Jo and Ian have followed Nick past the Drehkreuz.

Here’s one of those rare phrases that’s shorter in German:
“crowded subway platform” = überfüllten Bahnsteig (Well, okay, just barely shorter. That means, essentially, “over-filled train-climb”)

“straggler” = Nachzügler (“after traveler”)

“tracks” = Gleise

Not as much of a ring to it:
“Down, down, down” = Hinunter, hinunter, hinunter

“cramped and filthy passageways” = enge, schmutzige Gänge

“darker, slimier, and rougher” = dunkler, schleimiger und primitive

“lantern” = Taschenlampe (“pocket-lamp” I wonder if the translator thought it meant a flashlight?)

This sounds even more repulsive in German:
“a wet hole” = ein feuchtes Loch

“slick, spongy moss” = glattem schwammigem Moos

I like this one:
“crawled headfirst” = kroch kopfüber

“which suddenly contracted and slurped”
= das sich plötzlich zusammenzog und ein schlürfendes Geräusch von sich gab
(“that itself suddenly together-moved and a slurping noise from itself gave”)

“warily” = mistrauich

“a sloppy, drooling mouth” = ein schlaffes, sabberndes Maul

One word for this!
“just to make sure” = sicherheitshalber (“for safety’s sake”)

“jealous” = eifersüchtig (“zeal-seeking”)

“tumbling and sliding” = rutschte taumelnd

“splashed” = platschend

“torches” = Fackeln

“their faces looked strange and red in the flickering fire”
= ihre Gesichter wirken im Licht der flackernden Flammen merkwürdig rötlich
(“their faces looked in the light of the flickering flames strangely red”)

“twinkling jewels” = funkelnden Juwelen

“elaborate arched passages” = kunstvoll gemeißelte Durchgänge

“dome” = Kuppel

“humbled by age” = vom Alter gedmütigt

“arranged in glimmering mosaics” = zu schimmernden Mosaiken angeordnet

“whistled” = pfiff

“snorts” = schnaubte

“tame” = zahm

“squids” = Kalmare

“scratched” = kraulte

“We’ll go for a ride.” = Wir machen einen kleinen Ausritt.

“falling off” = herunterfielen

“squeeze them with your legs” = klemmt sie euch zwischen die Beine

“grunting beasts” = grunzenden Tieren

“oozed” = sickerte

“the back of her head” = ihren Hinterkopf

This time English has the compound word:
“slingshot” = Schleuder

“hushed gibbering” = leises Schnattern

“monkey-like beast” = affenähnliches Tier

“bolder” = kühner

“the roar of a hundred tiny throats” = einem tosenden Brüllen aus Hunderten winziger Kehlen

“leaped” = griffen

“snarling shapes” = knurrenden Gestalten

“bursting out of the water” = aus dem Wasser auftauchten
(I like that. auftauchten is, basically, “out-dived.”)

“bucked and dived” = bockte und tauchte

“surface” = Wasseroberfläche

“That was close.” = Das war knapp.

“peevish” = ein bisschen gereizt

“with heavy irony” = troff von Sarkasmus

“a spot of tea” = ein Schlückchen Tee

And let’s finish up with a tremendously useful phrase:
“I understand that knitting is very soothing.”
= Ich habe gehört, Stricken soll sehr entspannend sein.

I find myself hoping my readers don’t have any occasion to say these things this week. May you not hear the leises Schnattern of any affenähnliches Tier, nor einem tosenden Brüllen aus Hunderten winziger Kehlen.

But if you do, you’ll know what to call them!

Review of You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

September 6th, 2014

you_should_have_known_largeYou Should Have Known

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2014. 438 pages.
Starred Review

I started reading this book with a certain sadistic glee. The story is of a therapist, Grace Reinhart Sachs, who has written a book called You Should Have Known. Here Grace is talking about her book with a reporter from Vogue:

“Look, I’ve been in practice for fifteen years. Over and over I’ve heard women describe their early interactions with their partner, and their early impressions of their partner. And listening to them, I continually thought: You knew right at the beginning. She knows he’s never going to stop looking at other women. She knows he can’t save money. She knows he’s contemptuous of her – the very first time they talk to each other, or the second date, or the first night she introduces him to her friends. But then she somehow lets herself unknow what she knows. She lets these early impressions, this basic awareness, get overwhelmed by something else. She persuades herself that something she has intuitively seen in a man she barely knows isn’t true at all now that she – quote unquote – has gotten to know him better. And it’s that impulse to negate our own impressions that is so astonishingly powerful. And it can have the most devastating impact on a woman’s life. And we’ll always let ourselves off the hook for it, in our own lives, even as we’re looking at some other deluded woman and thinking: How could she not have known? And I feel, just so strongly, that we need to hold ourselves to that same standard. And before we’re taken in, not after….

“Imagine,” she said to Rebecca, “that you are sitting down at a table with someone for the first time. Perhaps on a date. Perhaps at a friend’s house – wherever you might cross paths with a man you possibly find attractive. In that first moment there are things you can see about this man, and intuit about this man. They are readily observable. You can sense his openness to other people, his interest in the world, whether or not he’s intelligent – whether he makes use of his intelligence. You can tell that he’s kind or dismissive or superior or curious or generous. You can see how he treats you. You can learn from what he decides to tell you about himself: the role of family and friends in his life, the women he’s been involved with previously. You can see how he cares for himself – his own health and well-being, his financial well-being. This is all available information, and we do avail ourselves. But then . . .”

She waited. Rebecca was scribbling, her blond head down.

“Then?”

“Then comes the story. He has a story. He has many stories. And I’m not suggesting that he’s making things up or lying outright. He might be – but even if he doesn’t do that, we do it for him, because as human beings we have such a deep, ingrained need for narrative; especially if we’re going to play an important role in the narrative; you know, I’m already the heroine and here comes my hero. And even as we’re absorbing facts or forming impressions, we have this persistent impulse to set them in some sort of context. So we form a story about how he grew up, how women have treated him, how employers have treated him. How he appears before us right now becomes part of that story. Then we get to enter the story: No one has ever loved him enough until me. None of his other girlfriends have been his intellectual equal. I’m not pretty enough for him. He admires my independence. None of this is fact. It’s all some combination of what he’s told us and what we’ve told ourselves. This person has become a made-up character in a made-up story.”

“You mean, like a fictional character.”

“Yes. It’s not a good idea to marry a fictional character.”

Grace has a beautiful life, with a son Henry at a fine private school and a wonderful husband who’s a pediatric oncologist. Grace doesn’t tell reporters that when she met her husband, she just knew that he was the one for her. It’s sad the way most of her other friends have fallen out of her life. But Jonathan is enough. And too bad that he had such a rotten childhood, and his parents didn’t even come to their wedding.

The reader is not surprised when Grace’s beautiful life begins to fall apart.

Like I said, I rather expected to be gleeful. Here’s one who says you should have known, but in some cases, how can you possibly know?

However, as I read the book, my sympathy for Grace grew to be huge. Yes, she should have known. She had warning signs. But you have complete sympathy for her, since when you’re in love, it’s pretty hard to imagine that this wonderful person is actually a sociopath.

This book actually pairs very well with the dating advice book I recently read, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. The problem in You Should Have Known is letting yourself fall in love before you really know the person. Then as you do get to know them, you’re already ready to overlook any flaws, which may come back to bite you later.

So in that sense, this was a therapeutic book to read as I’m starting to date again after my divorce! Nothing like a cautionary tale not to let myself be too swayed by a handsome face!

As for the book itself? I grew to have nothing but sympathy for Grace as her life fell apart and even her story of her marriage in the past had to be modified. And as she tried to figure out how to carry on and how to start life again, I was completely rooting for her, completely on her side. And the book was also therapeutic in thinking about my own marriage. No, my husband wasn’t as sociopathic as Grace’s husband. But some things, on an emotional level, were awfully resonant for me. So if I was applauding Grace moving on with life and putting her marriage behind her, why was I reluctant to do the same?

And the book was lovely, too. We feel realistically hopeful for Grace by the end. It’s not going to be easy for her or her son. But we feel like they’re going to make it.

So therapy, a cautionary tale, and an excellent story all in one package. If the author is saying Grace should have known, at least she’s saying it with compassion.

HachetteBookGroup.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Verily, a New Hope, by Ian Doescher

September 6th, 2014

verily_a_new_hope_largeWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Verily, a New Hope

By Ian Doescher

Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2013. 174 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Cybils Finalist

I’m going to list this on the Teens page – but this is truly a book that spans all ages. I brought it to a party of adults playing Eurogames, and they were all delighted and spontaneously read bits aloud. One of them was a homeschooler, and we agreed that it would be perfect for a group of middle school students getting ready to tackle Shakespeare.

What is it? The complete story of the first Star Wars movie, told in iambic pentameter, as Shakespeare would surely have written it, had he ever heard of space ships. This isn’t a straight translation. The author also used Shakespearean devices such as a Chorus to describe action and multiple uses of soliloquies to tell what the characters are thinking and planning.

This book truly begs to be read aloud or, better yet, performed. And, since everyone knows the story of Star Wars so well, any Shakespearean language the reader doesn’t understand will be readily made clear.

Here’s the scene where Luke has just met Obi Wan Kenobi:

CHORUS Now holdeth Luke the weapon in his hand,
And with a switch the flame explodes in blue.
The noble light Luke’s rev’rence doth command:
That instant was a Jedi born anew.

OBI-WAN [aside:] Now doth the Force begin to work in him.
[To Luke:] For many generations Jedi were
The guarantors of justice, peace, and good
Within the Old Republic. Ere the dark
Times came and ere the Empire ‘gan to reign.

LUKE How hath my father died?

OBI-WAN [aside:] –O question apt!
The story whole I’ll not reveal to him,
Yet may he one day understand my drift:
That from a certain point of view it may
Be said my answer is the honest truth.
[To Luke:] A Jedi nam’d Darth Vader – aye, a lad
Whom I had taught until he evil turn’d –
Did help the Empire hunt and then destroy
The Jedi. [Aside:] Now, the hardest words of all
I’ll utter here unto this innocent,
With hope that one day he shall comprehend.
[To Luke:] He hath thy Father murder’d and betray’d,
And now are Jedi nearly all extinct.
Young Vader was seduc’d and taken by
The dark side of the Force.

Ian Doescher includes a note at the end of the book as to why Shakespeare and Star Wars make a natural pairing. I’m happy to report that the trilogy continues in The Empire Striketh Back.

quirkbooks.com/shakespearestarwars
IanDoescher.com
starwars.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Winter Horses, by Philip Kerr

September 4th, 2014

The Winter Horseswinter_horses_large

By Philip Kerr

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014. 278 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a World War II tale unlike any other I’ve read. I loved it from the start. This book will appeal to animal lovers as well as readers who like to see an underdog succeed against all odds. I liked the way the people the characters met were good or bad depending on their own values, not on which side of the conflict or what nationality they were.

Here’s what the author has to say about the truth of the tale, before it gets underway:

Much of this old story has been gathered together like the many fragments of a broken vase. The pieces do not always fit as best they might, and indeed it’s quite possible that several of them do not belong here at all. It cannot be denied that the story has many holes and could not withstand much scrutiny. Historians will object – as they always seem to do – and say there is no real evidence that the old man and the girl who are the story’s hero and heroine ever really existed. And yet if today you were in Ukraine and dared to put your ear into the wind or perhaps took a trip across the steppe and listened to the deep voices of the bison, the whoop of the cranes, or the laughter of the Przewalski’s horses, you might learn that about the truth, the animals are never wrong; and that even if there are some parts of this story that are not exactly true, they could be, and that is more important. The animals would surely say that if there is one truth greater than all of the others, it is that there are times when history must take second place to legend.

This preface is the perfect touch to keep our suspension of disbelief in check. At the end of the book, we see a picture of a Przewalski’s horse at the Askaniya-Nova nature reserve in Ukraine today. So the horses did survive World War II. In fact, we’re told that all of the world’s Przewalski’s horses today are descended from just nine of thirty-one horses in captivity at the end of the war. So that’s enough to convince me this beautiful story might have happened.

The book opens at the Askaniya-Nova nature reserve in the Ukraine. The Germans are coming, so the Communists tell Maxim Borisovich Melnik to kill all the animals so the Germans won’t eat them.

Max has no intention of obeying. Wasn’t it a German, the Baron Falz-Fein, who first set up the sanctuary? Wasn’t he the kindest man Max ever knew? And aren’t the Przewalski’s horses a national treasure, and the rarest horses in the world?

Max was not the only person at Askaniya-Nova who was fond of the wild Przewalski’s horses. A girl had been hiding in the woods at the edge of the steppe for some time, and although she had, like many girls, loved horses as long as she could remember, for some reason that even she could not easily have explained, the wild Przewalski’s horses made friends with her. This was just as well since she had no human friends. Her family were all dead, and the few people who inhabited the scattered villages in the region drove her away from their doors because they were afraid – afraid that if the girl was arrested by the Germans, then they might also be arrested. The girl understood this and did not blame them for shunning her; she forgave them for it and told herself she would probably have done the same, although as this story proves, this was clearly not the case.

The Germans do appreciate the horses at Askaniya-Nova – but mainly the beautiful Hanoverian horses, not the wild Przewalski’s horses. Their view, with animals as well as people, is that “inferior” bloodlines should be eradicated.

So they gun down the horses, and neither Max nor the girl, Kalinka, can do anything to stop them. But two horses escape, a stallion and a mare. And just as winter starts up in all its fury, Kalinka and the horses come to Max’s door.

This book is the story of how Kalinka saves the horses, and how the horses save her. Okay, I have to admit it’s on the unbelievable side. Could Kalinka really have formed such a bond with wild horses? But I agree with the author – There are times when history must take second place to legend. This beautiful story is a triumph.

randomhouse.com/teens

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Sonderling Sunday – Der Lorax

August 31st, 2014

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. And look what I found at Powell’s books in Portland! A copy of Der Lorax!

Lorax

It’s been many weeks since I last did Sonderling Sunday. No, I’m not going to let it fall by the wayside. But I’ve had a busy summer, including a wonderful vacation in Oregon. And I haven’t posted on my website much lately, because this week my computer broke. But I’ve managed to restore the operating system, and I’m hoping to spend my Labor Day restoring files. And fortunately, I can post Sonderling Sunday without having my files back. While I was in Oregon, I visited my oldest son Josh, and we went to Powell’s Books in Portland. I had no idea they had a small German section — and I found Der Lorax.

Later, my younger son Tim and I had a marvelous time taking turns reading pages of the whole thing aloud. He reflected that it’s probably not as hard as you might think to translate Dr. Seuss — a lot of his words are invented, so just invent a word that rhymes as needed. You’ll see what he means….

And the translation is done by Nadia Budde.

I like the places where they had to put words in the pictures. “The Street of the Lifted Lorax” fits much more neatly than Weg des Entschwundenen Lorax.

I can’t resist giving you the entire first page and sentence:

“At the far end of town
where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows…
is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.”

Auf Deutsch:

Am Ende der Stadt,
wo das Mickergras steht
und der Wind fast versauert, wenn er langsam weht,
und außer den Krähen kein Vogel mehr kräht,
liegt der Weg des entschwundenen Lorax.

(“At the end of the city, where the Micker-grass stands
and the wind almost soured, when it slowly goes,
and except the crows no bird more crows,
lies the way of the vanished Lorax.”)

Here the meaning is changed slightly for rhyme:
“What was the Lorax?
And why was it there?
And why was it lifted and taken somewhere…”

= Was war der Lorax?
Warum war er dort?
Und wohin entschwand er? Denn jetzt ist er fort.

(That last line is roughly, “And to where did he disappear? For now he is gone.”)

This translation makes sense:
“Once-ler” = Einstler

Here’s a section that loses a little something in translation:

“You won’t see the Once-ler.
Don’t knock at his door.
He stays in his Lerkim on top of his store.
He lurks in his Lerkim, cold under the roof,
where he makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof.”

= Du wirst ihn nicht sehen
und klopfst lieber nicht.
Er haust ganz oben bei schummrigem Licht.
Er lugt durch die Ritzen. Im kalten Mief
näht er seine Lumpen,
vermuffelt und schief.

(“You will him not see
and knock better not.
He lives at the top in dim light.
He peeks through the cracks. In cold stale air
sews he his rags,
vermuffelt and crooked.”)
Hmm. She didn’t even try to translate “Lerkim.” Not as many made-up words, but it does give the feeling of the Once-ler’s Lerkim.

“And on special dank midnights in August,
he peeks
out of the shutters…”

= Doch an schwülen Tagen um Mitternacht
wird oben der Sehschlitz größer gemacht.

(“But on humid days at midnight
will over the see-slit bigger make.”)

“tin pail” = Eimer

“nail” = Zwecke

“the shell of a great-great-great-grandfather snail” = das Haus einer Ur-Ur-Ur-Uropaschnecke

Here you can see how it’s changed for the sake of rhyme:
“Then he pulls up the pail,
makes a most careful count
to see if you’ve paid him
the proper amount.”

= Dann zieht er den Eimer
hinauf unters Dach
und zählt seinen Lohn
noch hundertmal nach.

(“Then he pulls the bucket
up to the roof
and counts his reward
a hundred times after.”)

Again, I don’t think the translation has quite the same charm:
“Then he hides what you paid him
away in his Snuvv,
his secret strange hole
in his gruvvulous glove.”

= Dann stopft er das alles
hinein in sein Schmoch:
Im schnorrigen Handschuh
Ein seltsames Loch.

(“Then stuffs he it all
into his Schmoch:
In the schnorrigen glove
A strange hole.”)

“Whisper-ma-phone” = Flüsterfon

SLUPP!
Down slupps the Whisper-ma-phone to your ear
and the old Once-ler’s whispers are not very clear,
since they have to come down
through a snergelly hose,
and he sounds
as if he had smallish bees up his nose.”

= SCHLUPP!
saust das Flüsterfon ran an dein Ohr.
Das Einstler-Genuschel kriecht mühsam durchs Rohr.
Hinab durch die Enge,
und aus seinem Mund
klingt es, als steckten ihm
Hummeln im Schlund.

(“Schlupp!
rushes the Flüsterfon to your ear.
The Einstler-Genuschel crawls laboriously through the tube.
Down through the narrows,
and out of his mouth
sounds it, as if stuck him
Bumblebees in the throat.”)

Ah, and I like this page so much, I have to quote it:

“Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space…
one morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.”

= Lang, lang ist es her, noch grün war das Gras,
die Wolken ganz weiß
und der Teich herrlich nass,
und die Schwippschwäne sangen, der Wind trug es fort.
Da kam ich an diesen herrlichen Ort.
Und ich sah die Bäume!
Die Trüffelabäume!
Hier schaukelten sie auf grüner Wiese
die knallbunten Tuffs in der Morgenbrise.

(“Long, long ago, still green was the grass,
the clouds all white
and the pond delightfully wet,
and the Schwipp-swans sang, the wind carried it away.
There came I to this glorious place.
And I saw the trees!
The Trüffela-trees!
Here swayed they on the green meadow
the brightly colored Tuffs in the morning breeze.”)

Well, it’s getting late, and I haven’t gotten very far. So I will save the rest for another day. May you experience grün Gras, weiß Wolken, und ein Teich herrlich nass.

Review of Knitting Yarns, edited by Ann Hood

August 20th, 2014

knitting_yarns_largeKnitting Yarns

Writers on Knitting

edited by Ann Hood

W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2014. 287 pages.
Starred Review

I normally knit while I read nonfiction (with the help of a Book Chair), and naturally this book was a perfect choice. Twenty-six different authors here present musings about their relationships with knitting. Some are non-knitters, but they, too, have interesting stories to tell.

I love the wide range of experiences in this book. These are excellent authors who know how to make their musings interesting and entertaining. Of course, if you love knitting, that’s not a stretch.

In the Introduction, Ann Hood explains how knitting saved her after her little daughter died, and how this book came about.

This idea for an anthology of writers writing about knitting presented itself when I realized how many writers had told me their own knitting stories. To share those stories with knitters and readers seems not only exciting but necessary. I soon realized that the problem wasn’t going to be getting writers to contribute, but rather to find a way to keep so many knitting stories from flooding my inbox. What you have now is a collection of original essays written by some of the most prizewinning, bestselling, beloved writers writing today….

The impressive collection of writers here have contributed essays that celebrate knitting and knitters. They share their knitting triumphs and disasters as well as their life triumphs and disasters. Some of the essays are about the role knitting plays in the lives of these writers, or of their close family members; some essays are about the curious phenomenon of their interest in knitting but their inability to do it and what that means; some are about the importance of a knitted gift they gave or received; others illuminate the magic of knitting. These essays will break your heart. They will have you laughing out loud. But they will all leave knitters and non-knitters alike happy to have spent time in the company of these writers writing about knitting.

If you love knitting, and musing about knitting, that description will be enough.

I think most knitters tend to think of knitting as a metaphor for life in some way or other. I was surprised at how many different viewpoints, how many different ways of looking at knitting, these authors presented.

When I saw that Jane Smiley’s essay had the caption, “The writer discovers what knitting and writing novels have in common, and why she enjoys doing both,” I happily looked forward to a meditation on how both are constructed with a plan and require patient, faithful work. Instead, Jane Smiley proclaimed that in both endeavors, she thinks if you know how it’s going to look, why bother?

My conclusion: How you approach knitting is, in fact, similar to how a writer approaches writing. I approach both with a plan; Jane Smiley thinks too much planning makes them less interesting.

I went through the whole book at the rate of an essay a day and enjoyed it immensely. There’s nothing like knitting with someone – metaphorically or literally – for making friends. Now that I’m finished, I have to think about the essay I would write if I had the chance.

Would I write about my grandma, who knitted all the time? She had a padded canister with a hole in the top out of which yarn came out neatly, and she sat in her rocking chair in the corner and knitted. I loved the pink cabled sweater she knitted me when I was a little girl, followed by the purple granny square poncho when those were in style. The afghan she gave as a wedding present still graces my bed, even though my ex-husband does not. There was a time when my grandma tried to teach me how to knit, but only crocheting stuck. But all I had was dark brown practice yarn. No wonder I didn’t get inspired. I did, however practice crocheting chains and then learning other crochet stitches. But actually buying more yarn? Following a pattern? For some reason, I never thought of doing that.

I learned to knit as an adult, from a book. My son was taking piano lessons on the top floor of a shop in downtown Belleville. On the first floor, there was a craft shop. I bought a how-to-knit book, and this time it stuck! My first knitted object I wisely abandoned, but the second thing was a sweater for my son, and it actually turned out super cute! What’s more, my second son demanded to hold the books when we read books at bedtime, so my hands were free for knitting.

Before that, my main craft was cross-stitching. But when I finished, I’d never get around to framing the things. And besides, do I really want to stick more things on the wall? And besides, you have to look at the fabric when you’re cross-stitching. Knitting is perfect. Most projects, you don’t have to really look at, and all you have to do at the end is sew up the pieces (Still a problem sometimes), and the completed objects have a use – you can wear them in front of all your friends, who would hardly ever see them if you just attached them to your walls.

People tell me they don’t have enough patience for knitting, but I love knitting because it actually gives me patience! Do you know how boring elementary school assemblies can be (except for the five minutes when your kid is up front)? Well, if I bring knitting, I can quietly get something productive done while listening, and thus sit patiently. No matter how boring a meeting is – It’s a chance to knit! And even in interesting meetings, I maintain that keeping my hands busy helps keep me alert and interested. What’s more, it’s given me an excuse to sit and watch a video, or to sit and read nonfiction, for that matter. I’m not being lazy – I’m knitting!

But where my passion lies now is with mathematical knitting. My first Master’s was in Math, and I taught college-level Math for 10 years. But I didn’t particularly enjoy teaching – I’m an introvert. And I didn’t particularly enjoy teaching people who didn’t want to be there.

I do, however, love Math and think it’s beautiful. And one day I was reading a Knitting magazine and had an idea that changed my outlook.

The article told about a blanket someone had knitted that showed how numbers were factored. They took it to school events and had kids stare in fascination – even kids who thought they didn’t like math and weren’t good at it.

Since then, I’ve found a picture of the blanket posted on the internet, “Counting Pane,” created by Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer, “Mathekniticians.” (Lovely! That’s what I must call myself!)

The only problem was that the article didn’t show a picture of the complete blanket, so it wasn’t clear exactly how they were showing the different factors. But I know enough about math. I could devise my own scheme. And I wouldn’t want to do a blanket. Why not a sweater? Then I could wear it and talk with anyone I see about the beautiful patterns involved.

Figuring out how it would work was a huge part of the fun. I found a plain sweater pattern that had a big enough front to make a suitable canvas. I counted up how many colors I would need if I showed the prime factors of all the numbers from 2 to 100, with 1 as the background color. I did some swatches to figure out how to represent two factors, three factors, four factors, five factors, and six factors, with one stitch in between each color, and each number represented as a rectangle of colors. (It turned out that a 7 stitches by 8 stitches grid worked best.) I had fun charting it all out on graph paper, and then finding a yarn with enough different shades (I chose Cotton Classic), and then getting started.

The Prime Factorization Sweater took me more than a year to make, and then I went on to other things. I did create a DNA cabled scarf for my son, following a pattern in a book, and a probability scarf, also using an idea I’d read about. (You choose six yarns that go together well. You knit the scarf lengthwise. At the end of each row, you roll a die to decide which yarn to use next and flip a coin to decide whether to knit or purl. Use the ends as fringe and stop when one of the yarns runs out.)

Long after I’d finished the sweater, I wrote a blog post explaining it. Three years after that, I wore the sweater to the US Science and Engineering Festival, and showed it to Ivars Peterson at the Mathematical Association of America booth. I told him he could read all about it by googling “prime factorization sweater.” He did one tweet – and that day my website got 17,000 hits!

That got me thinking about mathematical knitting again. At last I’d found some people who agreed with me about how cool it was! The original Prime Factorization Sweater had taken so long, and had so many ends to sew in at the end. Could I think of a way to make one that used complete rows rather than a grid?

I found a sleeve-to-sleeve cardigan pattern and decided to knit the factors as stripes. But before I did that, I did the same idea in smaller form with a Prime Factorization Scarf. For the scarf, I used a reversible stitch and did two rows for each factor, with two rows of black (representing 1) in between. I was only able to go up to 50, so I decided to use something that would knit up smaller for the cardigan. Instead of two rows for each color, since the cardigan did not need to be reversible, for each number that wasn’t an exact power of a prime, I knitted all the factors into the same stripe. Powers got a row for each factor.

But while I was starting the cardigan, some babies joined the family! The cardigan had to be put aside. I used the ideas, with a stitch code (rather than a color code) to make a blanket for my little sister’s new baby with a coded blessing. But when my mathematically-minded little brother was due to become a father, I went back to the prime factorization idea. I used the same Cotton Classic yarn as for my sweater, but this time used entrelac blocks – so I didn’t need to have ten different balls of yarn in the same row, and could work with one color at a time.

I liked the Prime Factorization Blanket so much, I hated to give it away. But that got me thinking – Entrelac is an easy way to make Triangles. What if I made a Pascal’s Triangle Shawl? I loved the result – whole new patterns showed up. And after I made the first one, using the same colors as the Prime Factorization Blanket, I thought I’d make one using colors closer together in shade and using intermingled colors rather than blocks of color. (I may have to do a prime factorization blanket that way some day).

The cardigan is much bulkier, more attention-requiring knitting, so now the Pascal’s Triangle Shawl is my travel knitting and the Prime Factorization Cardigan is my at-home while-reading knitting. (I am almost done! In fact, today I ordered more black yarn and buttons for the edging. The bulk of the sweater is done.)

So, yes, when I think of knitting, I think of planning and counting and calculating. There is an aspect for me of being excited to find out what I’m creating – but as with writing, I need to have a plan.

A few people have told me I should sell my mathematical creations, but they take way too long! And besides, it makes me happy to look at them and to share them with people. (I did create a Prime Factorization T-shirt you can buy from Cafepress. And you don’t even have to worry if you spill on it.)

I was reflecting that I’m not sure if I’m going to go back to knitting-by-pattern. (Though I do use a pattern for the basic shapes of my sweaters.) There’s a huge joy in having an idea and planning it out and creating it, stitch by stitch and row by row and seeing how your creation comes out. And there’s something that delights me in seeing mathematical truths before my eyes.

And what was I doing? Reviewing a book? That’s right. For any knitters out there, I highly recommend Knitting Yarns. It will get you thinking about knitting in whole new ways and maybe inspire you to write an essay yourself.

norton.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Anna Carries Water, by Olive Senior and Laura James

August 15th, 2014

anna_carries_water_largeAnna Carries Water

by Olive Senior
illustrations by Laura James

Tradewind Books, 2014. First published in Canada in 2013. 42 pages.
Starred Review

This is a lovely book that takes a situation that would be unfamiliar to most American children and deals with the universal emotions involved in that situation.

Anna’s family lives way out in the countryside, and they don’t get their water from a tap. Every evening after school, the children go to the spring for water. All her bigger siblings carry the water back to the house on their heads. More than anything, Anna wants to carry the water on her head, like they do.

They tell her not to try – she’ll get her clothes wet. She cries when they are right.

But her siblings aren’t mean about it. They tell her not to worry about it, one day it will just happen. And the rest of the book tells about the day when it does. This also has some humor and a relatable situation.

The lovely bright paintings on large pages make the book beautiful.

This book will make a wonderful choice for preschool storytime, but also for any child who wants to do things the bigger kids can do.

tradewindbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/anna_carries_water.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.