Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't be Afraid of... The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, A Review

"Look up in the sky... It's a bird... It's a plane... It's a egg-salad sandwich." NO! It's just Captain Underpants on one of his amazing adventures courtesy of the mind of Dav Pilkey!

I read the first book in The Adventures of Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey for Banned Book Week. Yes, Captain Underpants has been challenged and Banned, even more so than Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? Well, probably for the same reasons young boys love reading this series. It's silly and fun, sprinkled with pranks by two young boys, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, and "the bad guy" is the adult, who actually becomes Captain Underpants with the help of a 3-D Hypno-Ring. Wow, did I just fit all that in one sentence?!

First off, why has this book geared towards 9 - 12 year olds been challenged? Offensive language? Well, the principal is called "that old guy" and "mean", but that's about the gist of it. And he is the bad guy after all. Violent? Well, the boys do defeat a couple of bad guy robots, with the appropriate warning before reading the chapter: "Warning: The following chapter contains graphic scenes showing two boys beating the tar out of a couple of robots.!" Lighten up book burners, this is just plain silly and a lot of fun. Not to mention that the two boys, one is black and one is white, show a positive inter-racial friendship.

What about the story? George and Harold are fourth graders who are kings of the practical joke. They sprinkle pepper in cheerleader pom-poms, pour bubble bath in the marching bands instruments, and they love switching the letters around on the Jerome Horwitz Elementary School sign to say silly things. They also are the creators of a comic book called The Adventures of Captain Underpants that they share with all their friends. Why Captain Underpants? Well don't most superheroes look like they're in their underpants?! Principal Krupp hated the boys for all their pranks and silliness, but could never catch them in the act... until one day... With the evidence in hand, Mr. Krupp blackmails the boys to be his slaves (I don't want to ruin the story and tell you what they did and how they were caught), and to be the best students in school. Growing tired of all that, the boys devise a plan to get the evidence back. It involves th 3-D Hypno-Ring, which inadvertently turns mean old Mr. Krupp into, yup you guessed it, the real Captain Underpants! That's where the adventure starts and has bad guys, robots, a machine to end the world and fake dog doo doo. There's even "flip book" pages to create live action pages. All just a bunch of fun.

I've read a lot of positive reviews on this one, and seems safe to say, it's a winner. Do we want to encourage young boys to be pranksters? No. Do we want them to disrespect our Principals? No. We want young boys to read, and that's what The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey is all about- reading! The Captain Underpants books are chapter books with great illustrations, and each book is a separate adventure.

No kids here, but I enjoyed this chapter book all the same. I might even read a few more of them, there are 9 more Captain Underpants adventures to enjoy after all!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Sunday Salon and Banned Books Week

Welcome to the Sunday Salon! It's been a crazy week here in Connecticut, but I couldn't let the week go without saying hello and that I READ BANNED BOOKS!…

Every year the American Library Association, along with authors, bloggers, readers, book sellers and anyone who shares a love for reading, celebrate Banned Books Week. I love banned books week! I discover all sorts of interesting books AND I also learn about fear. Most banned books are banned out of fear… that book will promote sex or violence or turn my teenager/child/baby into a serial killer, drug addict, alcoholic. I get it. I understand that not every book is appropriate for every child (Is Fifty Shades of Grey really appropriate for kids? NO!) but this is where parents should be involved in their child's reading. Discuss what a book is about, TALK to your child, but don't take the privilege of reading a particular book away from everyone because you don't want your child to see it. Of course some parents are not involved with their child's reading, so they have to rely on librarians, teachers and other parents to be a guide. And speaking out either way is a right. BUT, leave the fear behind.

Barbara Jones, who directs the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom say, "People focus on a word, or a handful of words, and often lift them out of the context of the books." But this year the number of banned or challenged books is lower than usual. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Jones said, "We'd like to think it's because people finally understand that pulling a book from their shelves isn't going to solve the problem they're worried about it."

This year Banned Books Week (Sept 21 - 27th) focused on graphic novels. Spiderman and Batman have gotten challenged, but also Maus, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. Here's a list of the most challenged graphic novels from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website.

What am I reading for Banned Books Week? The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. It's a 10 part series (I'm reading the first book) that follows the adventure's (and pranks!) of two ten-year-old boys, who create a superhero called Captain Underpants. It's banned because of offensive language (they call their teacher "that old guy" and "mean"), nudity (Captain Underpants is, well, in his underpants), and for promoting the disobeying of authority (thus the pranks). I'll fill you in on all the bad of this book in a review and hope that it does not encourage me to fly around in my underpants (we are what we read after all, right?!)... although that may amuse a few people.

Banned Books Week, what do you think?

Happy Banned Book Reading... Suzanne

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Splintered Kingdom by James Aitcheson, a Review

"They came at first light, when the eastern skies were still gray and before anyone on the manor had risen. Shadows lay across the land: across the hall upon the mound and the fields surrounding it, across the river and the woods and the great dike beyond that funds from sea to sea. And it was from those shadows that they came upon Earnford, with swords and knives and axes: a band of men perhaps as few as a dozen in number, perhaps as many as thirty. In truth no one knew, for by the time enough of us had woken, armed ourselves, and gathered to stand against them, they had already turned and fled, slipping away amid the trees, taking seven girls and women front the village with them."

Welcome to Earnford, the summer of 1070 and a fabulous tale of honor among men, vengeance to your enemies, swords and arms, knights and the battles they fought to  protect the lands that they claim. James Aithcheson has earned my praise for creating an amazing story that wrapped itself around me and held me until I turned the last page and then as the story released me from its grasp, I desperately wanted more. Strong characters, well drawn setting, great plot.

The landscape of the Norman Conquest was not new to me, but it was far from being a part of history I  paid much attention to past high school. During this period of Britain's history, the English, Welsh and Normans were all struggling for control of England. James Aitcheson creates a hero we grow quickly to embrace, and helps us navigate the war torn Country known as England. Tancred a Dinant is our hero, a man good with the sword who is eventually rewarded with a lordship and manor to call his own, as he proves valiant in battle. Why did I love him? He is honorable, confident, appreciative of those around him, not full of himself, and has a good head on his shoulders. He's a born leader, though a reluctant one at times. And why did I love this book? Because with each turn of the page, I became more part of the book, until I felt as if I was right in the midst of everything. James Aitcheson created such a realism with his characters and setting that it didn't feel like a story after a while. And why wouldn't Aitcheson do such a good job of writing about this time period? While studying history at Cambridge, he fell in love with the time period surrounding the Norman Conquest and did extensive research. To put his knowledge to work in a piece of historical fiction was easy for him. Fortunately for him, and us,the writing flows easily too.

The Splintered Kingdom navigates the battles well known for this time period without getting bogged down and boring. It does this through the eyes of Tancred a Dinant, a Norman, who seeks vengeance for the death of his Lord, the deaths of the men he has fought besides and the death of his one true love. We follow Tancred as he protects his lands and the people under his new found lordship, as he is called to arms to fight for his Country, and as he lives through victories and defeats. We get a feel for the way people lived during the middle ages and how fleeting life can be. There is a hint of romance here and there, but the meat of the book is how Tancred lives his life in battle and in 11 century England.     Tancred's story is wonderful and so is the writing. I became addicted!
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