Saturday, August 16, 2008

There Was a Man Who Loved a Rat and Other Vile Little Poems by Gerda Rovetch and illustrated by Lissa Rovetch

At the age of 83, Gerda Rovetch has published her first book in collaboration with her daughter. The poems are a short four lines each and resemble a limerick with their jaunty rhyme and humorous subject matters. Limericks were made popular by Edward Lear in the 19th Century and in later years were often associated with bawdy humor. Rovetch stays true to the spirit of Lear’s nonsense poems. Her characters find abandoned kidneys, stuff sardines down their pants, and attack people with lobsters. The illustrator’s art work complements the poems beautifully and is reminiscent of some of Edward Gorey’s illustrations. Gorey also illustrated for Lear and another great nonsense master, Hilaire Belloc. The original art was done on paper plates and the poems and illustrations are “served” opposite each other on round white circles with colorful backgrounds. I can imagine everyone from kindergarteners up enjoying these silly verses. Older students – and their teachers—might have fun trying to write them.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman, famous for his creepy and often scary tales, Coraline and The Wolves in the Wall, has created in his new novel something that is neither despite its chilling first chapter and spectral cast of characters. This is a story about the power of family -whatever form it comes in - and the potential of a child who is raised with love and a sense of duty. Nobody Owens (Bod) is adopted by a couple of ghosts after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the mysterious man who murdered the rest of his family. After much debate he is granted the Freedom of the Graveyard by its long dead inhabitants. His guardian Silas, neither dead nor alive, brings him food and ensures he is educated in the ways of the dead and the living. Of course, life for young Owens is not all plain sailing. There is the ghoul gate and the ancient force that waits in the oldest grave and the mysterious man who still searches for the boy he failed to kill. The story of an orphaned boy being hunted down by a secret society and protected by magic sounds familiar but while the story of Harry Potter resonates here, the sympathetic, flawed and ultimately very human character of Bod saves this from being merely a reshaping of Rowling’s epic tale. In fact, Gaiman's title is an homage to Kipling's The Jungle Book- a story with a similar theme. I can’t help thinking, however, that this novel should be the first in a series. There are too many questions unanswered. While I never really believed that Bod was ever in any real danger in the graveyard, a boy who sets off in to the world of the living with his “eyes and heart wide open” can only be headed for uncertainty.
FYI Coraline the movie is slated to be released in 2009. Click here for a sneak preview.
Neil Gaiman has a groovy website.

Poetry Friday

I love it when I find a new poet. I invariably do so through the New Yorker, Garrison Keillor or Poetry Friday! I found Matthew Dickman in the Aug. 11 New Yorker (the other poem, by John Ashbury, that week was incomprehensible to me). I was stunned after I read it. I love the way he mixes the cataclysmic with the mundane in the poem and the ending lines...You can read another of his poems Grief here. He's a relatively newcomer to the published poets field and his first full-length collection, All American Poem, won the 2008 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry.

Dickman hails from a white working class suburb of Portland, Oregon. An area he has written about in some of his poems. In November 2007 Major Jackson for the Boston Review described these poems as "melancholic portraits of impoverished white teenagers that dazzle me into the always painful, yet easily forgettable, awareness that many people suffer psychically under the knife of American prosperity. Outside the frame of these poems lurk the children of female-headed homes; parents who work two or more jobs; teenage moms who live in “Drug-Free Zones” and “Urban Renewal Zones,” unkempt neighborhoods whose parks are normally full of drugs; teen addicts slumping toward oblivion; and fathers for whom the closest thing to therapy is domestic abuse."

Dickman has an interesting story. He was a manny for a young boy whose father was dying of brain cancer, a story you can read about here at American Public Media: The Story. I found more of his poems (and advice to writers) on the website From the Fishouse: an audio archive of emerging poets.

Trouble by Matthew Dickman
Marilyn Monroe took all her sleeping pills
to bed when she was thirty-six, and Marlon Brando’s daughter
hung in the Tahitian bedroom
of her mother’s house,
while Stanley Adams shot himself in the head. Sometimes
you can look at the clouds or the trees
and they look nothing like clouds or trees or the sky or the ground.
The performance artist Kathy Change
set herself on fire while Bing Crosby’s sons shot themselves
out of the music industry forever.
I sometimes wonder about the inner lives of polar bears. The French
philosopher Gilles Deleuze jumped
from an apartment window into the world
and then out of it. Peg Entwistle, an actress with no lead
roles, leaped off the “H” in the HOLLYWOOD sign
when everything looked black and white
and David O. Selznick was king, circa 1932. Ernest Hemingway
put a shotgun to his head in Ketchum, Idaho
while his granddaughter, a model and actress, climbed the family tree
and overdosed on phenobarbital. My brother opened
thirteen fentanyl patches and stuck them on his body
until it wasn’t his body anymore. I like
the way geese sound above the river. I like
the little soaps you find in hotel bathrooms because they’re beautiful.
Sarah Kane hanged herself, Harold Pinter
brought her roses when she was still alive,
and Louis Lingg, the German anarchist, lit a cap of dynamite
in his own mouth
though it took six hours for him
to die, 1887. Ludwig II of Bavaria drowned
and so did Hart Crane, John Berryman, and Virginia Woolf. If you are
travelling, you should always bring a book to read, especially
on a train. Andrew Martinez, the nude activist, died
in prison, naked, a bag
around his head, while in 1815 the Polish aristocrat and writer
Jan Potocki shot himself with a silver bullet.
Sara Teasdale swallowed a bottle of blues
after drawing a hot bath,
in which dozens of Roman senators opened their veins beneath the water.
Larry Walters became famous
for flying in a Sears patio chair and forty-five helium-filled
weather balloons. He reached an altitude of 16,000 feet
and then he landed. He was a man who flew.
He shot himself in the heart. In the morning I get out of bed, I brush
my teeth, I wash my face, I get dressed in the clothes I like best.
I want to be good to myself.

Roundup is at Big A little a this week.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Benjamin Dove by Fridrik Erlings

Benjamin Dove is described as a "canonical treasure" in the author's native Iceland. It won the International Board on Books for Young People Award and has been made in to a feature length film available in the UK. It doesn't seem to have made much of a stir since its journey over the Atlantic last year.

It's an old fashioned story of friendship, jealousy, bullying and betrayal. There is pointless violence and ultimately a tragedy, but the story is human and so there is also forgiveness, understanding, and redemption. Benjamin, Jeff and Manny are three friends who play together on "the Ground", a sacred space protected from the town bullies by its unofficial yet unopposed guard Grandma Dell. Jeff is the kind of boy who sees everything as a competition and a chance to prove himself the fastest, strongest, or most skillful of the three. His inability to accept defeat often leads to violent outbursts that begin to wear on his two friends, particularly Manny, who is the youngest, and often bears the brunt of Jeff's frustration.
Enter Roland, a new boy in the neighborhood whose bedroom resembles a scene out of King Arthur's legend. Roland believes he is descended from Scottish kings and stands up to the two town bullies, putting himself in physical danger. However, it is Grandma Dell, not Roland's new friends, who comes to his rescue and she ends up paying a terrible price for her intervention.
The boys, led by Roland, create knightly personas for themselves and vow to avenge the wrong done to Grandma Dell. With the creation of The Order of the Red Dragon the stage is set for a battle of good against evil. Unfortunately, as in real life, the line between the two is not always easily discernible and seemingly righteous decisions or careless choices can have unexpected consequences.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Poetry Friday

Roundup is at The Well-Read Child today.
A rather sad poem. We've all, well maybe most of us, have at one time experienced that awful realization that our affection is not returned quite the way we thought or had fooled ourselves to believe it was. Collins put his finger right on that sore spot.
The Breather
by Billy Collins
Just as in the horror movies
when someone discovers that the phone calls
are coming from inside the house
so too, I realized
that our tender overlapping
has been taking place only inside me.
All that sweetness, the love and desire—
it's just been me dialing myself
then following the ringing to another room
to find no one on the line,
well, sometimes a little breathing
but more often than not, nothing.
To think that all this time—
which would include the boat rides,
the airport embraces, and all the drinks—
it's been only me and the two telephones,
the one on the wall in the kitchen
and the extension in the darkened guest room upstairs.

From Volume 192, Number 4, July/August 2008