Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Gilmore Girls Challenge-In Cold Blood

So many books, so little time.
                                     Frank Zappa

I finally checked a few titles off of my perpetually lengthening "to read" list and managed to read a book for the Rory Gilmore challenge.

So, Truman Capote is one of those renowned authors whom I had read about, but had not actually read.There have been several biographical films about the flamboyant author who was known for throwing wild parties and hobnobbing with celebrities. The late Philip Seymore Hoffman won an Oscar for playing Capote in 2006 and his performance was truly spectacular, but I love Hoffman in all of his roles.

Side Note:  If you are a mystery buff I recommend the movie, Murder by Death, in which Capote makes his one and only acting appearance. It is a ridiculous spoof featuring all of literature's most famous detectives (Miss Marple, Nick and Nora Charles, Charlie Chan, Philip Marlowe, etc.) brought together on a stormy night in a musty mansion to solve a mystery.

Many of you may not be aware that Capote wrote the novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I have not read, but I love the movie starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard! Yes, George Peppard played Hannibal in the original A-Team! Who knew that he had a romantic side?

According to Capote's 1984 obituary in The New York Times  '...the book that perhaps edified his claim to literary fame was In Cold Blood, his detailed, painstakingly researched and chilling account of the 1959 slaying of a Kansas farm family and the capture, trial and execution of the two killers."
When In Cold Blood was published in 1966 no one had ever read anything quite like it. Although it is considered a nonfiction book, In Cold Blood reads like a fiction novel and many literary critics consider Capote to be the pioneer of the "nonfiction novel" and the entire "true crime" genre. There are just as many critics, however, that challenge the complete veracity of In Cold Blood despite Capote's claims that his book was "immaculately factual".

Before I get into the book here is a brief account of the horrific events that led to the writing and publishing of In Cold Blood.
In Holcomb, Kansas on November 15, 1959  two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary broke into the home of Herb Clutter and murdered him, his wife, Bonnie, and their two teenaged children; Nancy and Kenyon. One of the parolees, Dick Hickock, had learned from a former cellmate that Herb Clutter was an extremely wealthy farmer who had a safe full of cash in his home.Believing he had found "the perfect score" Hickock enlisted the aid of another former inmate, Perry Smith, to rob the Clutter home and abscond to Mexico.  Tragically, Herb Clutter had never had a safe and in fact was well known for never paying for anything with cash. Hickock and Smith callously murdered four people for less than $30. Although, the two ex-cons did make it to Mexico, they returned to Kansas within weeks and were arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959. After a one week trial the jury took 45 minutes to convict Hickock and Smith and the two were sentenced to death. Hickock and Smith remained on death row for five years until they were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.

Personally, I do not doubt that Capote took some literary license with certain events and scenes in his book.  Even though Capote did a tremendous amount of research and conducted countless interviews, turning those notes and facts into a compelling narrative would require some imagination.

Whether or not In Cold Blood is completely factual there is no denying that it is superbly written. I think the fact that it was such a gripping read is what made me feel so sick at heart by the time that I finished it. Because In Cold Blood reads so much like a novel the people involved in the Holcomb tragedy become characters and the events become remote and unreal.

Also there is just something salacious about taking serious and tragic events and transforming them into a best-selling, page-turner. In Cold Blood and all of the true crime novels to follow turn us into the ghoulish kind of people that stand on the side of the road watching the aftermath of a car accident.

What  bothered me the most about In Cold Blood, though, was that Capote casts the Clutter family in the role of supporting characters to Hickock and Smith. Unfortunately this seems to be the case with most deplorable crimes. It is the criminals like Ted Bundy or Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris who garner the attention and interest of the public, not the victims. 

Certainly, Capote had time to interview and get to know Hickock and Smith, whereas his knowledge of the Clutters could only be gained through hearsay. This lack of intimacy and familiarity with the Clutters is apparent when Capote describes them in the opening chapters of the book. Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, 16 year old daughter, Nancy, and 15 year old son, Kenyon, come across as wooden and too perfect, too good, too conservative, too wealthy. Capote, known for being different (especially from small town, conservative Kansas farmers) and somewhat of an outcast, clearly identifies and sympathizes with Perry Smith.  In Cold Blood tries to transfer the reader's outrage from the helpless and innocent Clutters to the poor, abused, sensitive, and artistic Perry Smith who just craves love and recognition. In my opinion, this is an inexcusable travesty.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Gilmore challenge and Alice

Here are the ones I watched as a little girl. :)

Sorry it has been so long since I blogged.  I had a great time in Niagara Falls and I finished Alice in Wonderland.  For some reason it was a very slow read for me, I don't think I was very focused.  I have been thinking about what I might write about it, but the funny thing is when I finished it I didn't exactly have an opinion on it. It is a great piece of literature but when I read the first half of it all I could think about was the Disney version and how close it stays in line with the original story.  Then as I was reading the second part Through the Looking Glass it put me in the mind of another version that I loved to watch as a kid.  I guess that is the weird thing about a piece of literature that has been made into so many different movies and spin-offs, it makes it difficult to just enjoy the story and not compare it to every other version.  Of course it could just be me, my husband often tells me I watch too much T.V. Well anyway, I look at it I am glad that now I can actually say I have read the original. :)  I'm still listening to Huckleberry Finn my kids keep fussing when I turn it on in the car, so it is taking longer than expected.  I would love to hear how some of you out there are doing on the list. :)  My next book is going to be Carrie by Stephen King (I watched the movie on Netflix, the original one,  I hadn't seen it in a long time.) Hmmm maybe I do watch too much T.V. ;) Till next time.

Here are the ones I watched as a little girl. :)

I put up a display at the Portland District Library with the complete list and some of the books! Come in and check it out!  Anything we don't have we will be happy to order it for you.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why Do Summer Reading?

As I mentioned in my previous post, Portland District Library kicked off summer reading last week with a presentation by the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary. We are starting a bit late this summer since Portland's schools had a month of snow days this past winter.

In addition to offering fun, drop-in programs we give all of the kids take home reading logs. If they read so many books per week or minutes per day (we let them choose which goal works best for their reading level) they can earn prizes. Portland is very fortunate to have local businesses donate coupons for free ice cream, kid's meals, video rentals, etc.

The first big question is why do librarians work so hard to get kids coming to the library over the summer? After all, planning and prepping summer reading requires weeks and weeks of work. Once summer finally arrives it is stressful, hectic, and loonier than the Mad Hatter's Tea party.

Yep, this is me!
Well, I cannot speak for every librarian, but I believe that the majority of people who work with books have a passion for reading that they want to share. Summer Reading gives us the opportunity to instill this same passion in children and, hopefully, make them life-long readers and patrons of the library.

Personally, I get super geeked when kids come into the library with their reading logs. Sure, children are happy to get a prize, but they are also eager to talk about the books that they have read and proud of meeting their reading goal.  For someone like me who doesn't just love books, but is obsessed with them, seeing kids excited about reading is AWESOME!!!

So now that you know why librarians are doing back flips through the stacks about summer reading let's move on to the second big question. Why should you (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who cares about education in our country) be ecstatic about summer reading (and reading during those other three seasons too).

Many of you have probably heard the term summer slide, which refers to the loss of spelling, reading, and math skills that school aged children experience over summer vacation

The old adage "use it or lose it" seems to hold true, because unless kids are engaged in some form of educational activities over the summer they will fall backward.

The most disheartening fact is that  kids from lower income homes and areas are even more susceptible to summer slide.

In 2010 Time Magazine published an article called "The Case Against Summer Vacation" in which the author  discusses the issue of summer slide and it's higher impact on poorer children.  Much of this is believed to be because lower income school districts and families do not have the same resources available during the summer that wealthier families and communities have.

I highly recommend reading the article, because it is incredibly interesting and inspiring how so many groups are volunteering time and money to provide quality summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

However, I wish that the author would have mentioned that libraries in every state offer free and fun reading programs to all children, whether they are poor, wealthy, or somewhere in between.

As you can see from this graphic just having that access to books can make a huge, huge, huge difference in a child's potential. 

I am going to insert a plug here to encourage you to support libraries when you vote. It is so incredibly important for kids to have access to books and many libraries are hurting (especially in poorer areas).

If you are interested here is another great article on stopping summer slide and the National Summer Learning Association website is a boon of information too.

If you are thinking: My kids are not even school yet so why should I care about summer learning? Well, they will be in school someday so don't you want to start them down the right track now? There is so much information and research about the importance of early literacy. Put simply kids that grow up loving books and reading with parents and caregivers will do better in school and even beyond school. Don't believe me? Take a look at some of these websites: Reading is FundamentalGet Ready to Read, Zero to Three, or Reading Rockets (to name a few).

Reading should not just be about doing better in school, though. It is about children thinking, feeling and imagining and that is why I hope that all kids will participate in summer reading and continue to make reading an important part of their lives.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Storytime Anytime-Tales with Scales

A few days ago the Portland District Library kicked off  Summer Reading 2014 with a "scaly" presentation by the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary.  Kids got to see, touch, hold, and learn about some amazing amphibians and reptiles. The owner, David Critchlow, was hilarious and educational, which is nearly impossible when you are dealing with over 100 children between the ages of 2 and 14.  All of the animals at Critchlow's were abandoned or rescued. It is staggering how many people think that having a pet alligator is a good idea (at least until it gets big enough to bite off your fingers).

Since I have slithering, hissing, creeping, crawling, snapping animals on the brain what could be more apropos than a reptile themed storytime?

Let's begin with snapping and gnashing Alligators and Crocodiles!

 Of course, my favorite picture book featuring an alligator or a crocodile is The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl! (If you have not read any of my previous blog posts, let me just explain that I a revere, adore, idolize, and am completely enamored by Roald Dahl!)  The Enormous Crocodile is a longer picture book, but Dahl's writing and Quentin Blake's distinctive illustrations are sure to captivate the squirmiest of children.

For older children, this a great book to use for story mapping. You can go through and discuss the beginning, clever trick #1, clever trick #2, clever trick #3, and the ending in which the enormous crocodile is "sizzled like a sausage" when the elephant hurls him into the sun.

Maybe I just enjoy carnage (I know my boys love it when there is the chance of something being eaten). In this story an adorable little crocodile decides that he wants to eat a child. At first his parents laugh, but when he keeps refusing his bananas and even chocolate cake they grow worried. Will little crocodile eat a child or decide that bananas make a better meal? Kids are sure to laugh out loud when little crocodile finally gets his chance to "eat a child".

Okay, this is the last alligator book even though I can think of about a dozen more that I love. Mercer Meyer is the famed author and illustrator of the Little Critter books. There's an Alligator Under My Bed is similar to There are Monsters Everywhere and There's a Nightmare in my Closet. All of these are spectacular books for combating those childhood fears about strange and dangerous things hiding in dark corners. Each one features a child who conquers the monster or, in this case alligator, that they are afraid of.

I have actually led several "alligator/crocodile" storytimes and I even bought a special alligator puppet which I use to sing 5 Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree (see I guess I really do have a thing about carnage). If you have never heard the song it is so much better than 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed. Probably because the monkeys get eaten! If you are not familiar with this version of 5 Little Monkeys just click on the link above. You do not need puppets or a flannel board. You can just use your hands to do motions and the kids will love that just as much if not more.

My favorite alligator craft was when I made shadow puppets with my storytime kids.This is the site that I got the idea for the alligator shadow puppet, but I thought that their finished puppet looked a little boring (see right). I added big teeth and a bumpy back and tail. One of my coworkers had a remote control desk lamp with a color changing bulb. I covered the windows and put a huge white sheet on one wall. The kids had a blast moving their puppets in front of the light. They were fascinated that they could change the size of the alligator by moving closer or further away from the screen.

On to Lizards!!!

I recently read I Wanna Iguana to several first and second grade classes that came to the library for class tours (advertising our upcoming reptile presentation).  What makes this book unique is that is written in a series of letters between Alex and his mother. In his letters Alex highlights all of the reasons he should have a pet iguana and his mother offers her objections and concerns. David Catrow is an amazing artist; I love illustrators that have a unique and recognizable style. Catrows illustrations are so colorful and always seem to express such joy.  I highly recommend I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, which is also illustrated by Catrow. It is just such a happy and funny story.

If you enjoy I Wanna Iguana Orloff has written a sequel, I Wanna New Room, in which Alex writes a series of letters protesting that the birth of a new baby sister will require him to share a room with his brother, Ethan.

I have used I Wanna Iguana in my young writers group to as a fun example of letter writing and also writing an argument.

Younger children may have difficulty following the back and forth letters between Alex and his mother. Some simpler books featuring lizards are A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni and The Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carle. Both are bold, graphic, and excellent for teaching colors. There are numerous printable templates for both books that are fun for kids to color or paint.

With my classes that toured the library I used this template for a lizard gift tag.I really like the way that you could bend it to make it look like it was walking. The kids colored them and then I had a variety of sequins that they could glue on if they wanted to.

SSSSS is for Snake!
Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes  This is a pretty common fear, but I hope that these picture books are cute enough to help you get past it.
Janell Cannon is also the author and illustrator of Stellaluna, which is another stunning picture book. The colors in this book, the bright and vibrant yellow and the lush green of the jungle are mesmerizing. The story is super cute too. Verdi wants to play, play, play and so he dreads turning green and becoming heavy and lazy like the grown up tree pythons.  In the end he discovers that you are never too old to play.

When Mouse learns that Snake and Mice are not supposed to be friends he becomes so afraid that he falls in a hole. Who can help him get out? His friend, Snake, of course! Mouse learns the important lesson that you cannot always listen to gossip.

What makes this book unique is that the book is illustrated in collographs, which are printed collages. Snake's body is a mesh onion bag, the dirt is rumpled pager etc. It is fun trying to figure out the different items and as a added activity you can try painting with different materials. Sponges, paper, potato mashers, nylons, etc.

Snakes are so simple when it comes to crafts and activities. What could be easier than making snakes with playdough or you can make paper chain snakes. Spiral snakes are also incredibly easy and look cool twisting in an open window. Don't allow kids to glue too many decorations on it or it will sag really low. Obviously, I have made this mistake before.

I think that I will leave turtles for another post and I won't get started on amphibians yet (there are a lot of great frog books, though).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gilmore Girl Challenge

Okay, I'm still reading Alice and listening to Huck but this entry has nothing really to do with literature and everything to do with Gilmore Girls. :) Just because. :)

So, I thought I might just share with you some of my favorite Gilmore moments!
My absolute favorite moment is in P.S. I love you when Rory and Richard are talking about why you would need to learn to dissect a frog if you were going into the insurance business and Rory responds "Perhaps if you are insuring the frog."  I think I fell completely in love with the show at that point.  This might not seem as funny out of context, but it struck me as hilarious in the moment.  You should also watch the spring break episode it is another one of my favorites.  Here are a few other quotes.  There are simply to many great ones to ever put them all on here, so you really should watch the show. ;)

You have got to love Michel!

This part is hilarious, I am not sure when I stopped laughing :)  

                                        This is so me!

Just found this online and thought it was funny, and not a bad idea.  I would prob be in awesome shape if I did this every time I watched an episode.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Accepting the Rory Gilmore Challenge

Alas, Gilmore Girls was a family drama with a continuing story line that ran from 2000 through 2007. Years in which  I was sleep deprived and hip deep in spit up, pureed sweet potatoes, and dirty diapers. The only television shows that I watched with any regularity during those years were Sesame Street, Blues Clues (only with Steve, my kids refused to watch after the Joe took over), and The Wiggles.  The few episodes that I have seen of Gilmore Girls I liked, but I am definitely not an avid fan like Wendy.

However, I was intrigued by Wendy's post on the Rory Gilmore Challenge so I downloaded the list of all 339 titles to see how many I had actually read. The List Challenge website makes it incredibly easy because you can just click on the covers of the books that you have read and then it calculates your results.

I have read 103 books on the list. Since I was a lit major in college, though, a good number of these were assigned reading. Trust me. No one on this earth would ever ever ever read The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism unless they were required to do so. The only thing this book is good for is curing insomnia or pressing flowers (since it is about a foot thick and weighs 40 pounds).

I am excited about accepting the Rory Gilmore Challenge, but there are a few books on the list that I already know I am going to skip. First and foremost are Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce. I had to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and I attempted to read Ulysses and that was enough Joyce to last me a lifetime. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man takes place primarily in the main character's own head and it is a monotonous deluge of self-flagellation. Stephen Dedalus hates politics, religion, himself, and feels overwhelming guilt about everything he thinks, feels, and does. Finally he decides to live life to the fullest  (build his own metaphorical wings like the mythical Daedalus) and become and Artist with a capital A (yeah).

Supposedly Ulysses is one of the greatest works of literature ever and according to this site it easy to read and everyone should try. After only 100 pages, though, I was crouched in a corner, drooling and ripping out my own hair. Honestly, the book is around 700 pages and it all takes place on ONE day. Taking weeks (or months or years) to live June 16 in Leopold Bloom's head just does not seem worth the effort.

There are a few other books that I am not too sure about, but I am going to stay positive from here on out. Unless, of course, I read a real dud. Then I will give you my honest opinion.
I will try to keep you posted on my progress with the challenge and I am looking forward to reading about everyone's experiences.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rory Gilmore Challenge Alice and Tom

Hi everyone, well I am still reading Alice in Wonderland I haven't gotten very far yet, but so far it looks like Disney stuck to the book pretty well.  I am really enjoying it.  The only problem is every time I read it, I catch myself talking like Alice for awhile afterwards.  I was trying to remember when Alice in Wonderland was mentioned in Gilmore Girls and found that it was the title of one of the episodes Emily in Wonderland (i had a duh moment) apparently there is also fan fiction written on the topic that might be fun to read. Well I will continue on my journey down the rabbit hole, hope to see you there.

I am also listening to the  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  I think I must have heard this story as a child because it sounds insanely familiar but I suppose it could be just exposure to the tale through the years.  Kind of like, you feel like you have seen Disney's Bambi a million times (at least if you grew up when I did) when truth be told  I have probably seen it less than five times it is just that they would show little pieces of the movie on TV all the time.  I am enjoying Huckleberry Finn, at least I am now that I have stopped cringing every time they use the N word, but otherwise I really enjoy the dialect being from the south it reminds me of home.  As I listen I do not think I would want either one of my sons to act as Huck does in the book, at least so far.  He is always up to some kind of mischief.  But it is fun listening to the story, Tom Parker who reads the story does a great job.  Just in case you are wondering where they mention Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Gilmore Girls it is Rory's last assignment at Stars Hollow High.
Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!