Archive for April, 2011

Big day tomorrow

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Leaving DD for more than an hour for the first time, and going to my first day of the five month long, four hours per day (at least six including the break and commute both ways), five days per week language course. I’m trying to get my things together (paperwork, pencil case, notebook/paper, pump and accessories, food and water for me, and I still have to choose a book and crochet project) and can’t quite get into a book review I’m afraid. Trying to make sure DH and DD will have everything they need (milk and apparatus to get it into her) and hoping I’m going to get some sleep tonight (but DD is asleep now and was for most of 12 hours today, so I may be out of luck).

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And Again

Friday, 29 April 2011
Cover of "Fire Pony"

Cover of Fire Pony

32. The Fire Pony by Rodman Philbrick

After enjoying Freak the Mighty so much, I thought I should try more by Philbrick, and came across this novel. There are some strong thematic similarities, with both novels told by a quiet orphaned boy in difficult family circumstances that he has little or no control over, who is failing in school. The settings are quite different, however; whereas Max might have quite enjoyed starting again in a place where no-one knew his family story, here Roy keeps being displaced. While Max lives in suburbia with older predictable adults (his grandparents), Roy is following his firebrand brother Joe Dilly around the rural horseranches of the western US.

At the start of this novel Roy and Joe Dilly (the way Roy always refers to him) are on the move, trying to get far enough away from Montana that the trouble Joe Dilly got into last won’t come back to haunt them. They find the Bar None, a ranch where everyone is welcome, and while the manager isn’t looking for more staff, Joe Dilly’s talent as a farrier and horseman win them a place, at least for the summer. Rick the manager and Mr Jessup the owner go out of their way to help Joe and Roy feel welcome and able to stay, smoothing over difficulties with the truant officer (since Roy isn’t in school) and others, and even giving Roy (the use of) a pony to break (with lots of guidance from all three men) and ride. Both brothers are happy at the Bar None, but neither can quite lose the worry that something’s going to go wrong again, that Joe Dilly’s going to do something stupid again…

I liked this novel a lot. It has a related feel to Freak the Mighty, but is a quite different story. It doesn’t downplay the technical details of looking after lots of horses, but doesn’t overwhelm with them either. Certain scenes remind me of Black Beauty, in a good way, but this is definitely a modern tale. It has a light touch with many of the moral issues, but there are lots of them there. One I want to reread, I think.

Difference and attraction

Thursday, 28 April 2011
Freak the Mighty

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27. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

I have read this before, and both times found it funny, poignant and a great story. Our narrator, Max, is orphaned of his mother, because his father (who he increasingly physically looks like) killed her. He lives with his maternal grandparents, and obviously no-one has anything good to say about his father. Unfortunately his family is well known locally, meaning people (including his grandparents) are constantly reminding him of the things that happened when he was a little boy, and worrying aloud that the resemblance will be more than superficial. This seems to have caused him to retreat into the persona of a big lug: large, physically strong and with little or no academic prowess (even though at least some of his teachers think he has potential if he’d use it).

Things start to change when a good friend of his mother’s returns to the area, moving into the house next door with her son, happy to be nicknamed Freak, who Max remembers going to preschool with. Freak is physically weak and very small in stature, but has a highly developed intellect and taste for pretence and adventure. The two strike up a strong friendship, with Max becoming the Mighty part of the duo, and each enabling and encouraging the other to be more than he can alone.

While each retains some secrets, the two boys do each other a lot of good in many ways, with Max in particular being a stronger, more confident and more accepted member of his family and community.

There is apparently a film of this book, entitled simply The Mighty, but I haven’t seen it.

Who’s eating whom?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

My father’s quite into paper and card crafts at the moment, and has given us and other family members some fun and spectacular examples in the last few months. I keep suggesting he start his own occasional blog to showcase his projects and other artworks (drawing, photography) but since he hasn’t yet I’m taking the opportunity to show you a pop-up piece that we got in the post today:

I think it’s great, and DD really wants it. (Unfortunately if I let her have it we’d have a torn and soggy mass in no time flat, but she’ll grow out of that.) You can hear her in the video.

Who Did You Say?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Horton Hears a Who!

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65. Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss

I know this is one of the best known Dr Seuss books, but I hadn’t ever read it, so far as I can recall, until now. DH found this and the two Cat in the Hat Books I also read DD tonight in a 2nd hand bookshop a few weeks ago, so he read them to her first. I think she’s getting more of a sense of us doing something she’s supposed to enjoy when we read to her now, but at five months she’s not really clamouring for stories as yet. There’s time for that to come!

So, in this story Horton the elephant is enjoying a cool splashy pool in the Jungle of Nool, when he hears a voice coming from a speck of dust floating past, and striking up an acquaintance with the mayor of Whoville, which is located on the dust mote, he decides to protect their little world from potential accident. Unfortunately, his very taking notice of the Whos is rather the cause of most of their danger, since some of the other creatures in the jungle decide that Horton’s hearing imaginary voices rather than those of microscopic creatures, and to shake him out of it they decide to get rid of the flower into which he’s placed the mote…

As with the Cat in the Hat stories, there’s a fair bit of apparently good willed arrogance and really bullying in this story, but things do work out in the end (if not so much along the way). I suppose that means there’d be lots to discuss during and after reading the rhythmically rhyming story with all the bounce and verve the words demand.

Post Passover Planning

Monday, 25 April 2011

(NB It’s still Passover/Pesach everywhere but Israel, but since that’s where I am, it’s over!)

So, I can get back to my crocheting. I think the priorities are getting on with DD’s summer dress, which I’d like to have ready for Shavuot, which is in six weeks, and the shawl for the wonderful doula who helped her be born, oh, over five months ago now… (Oops!) I’d also like to make some potholders/dishcloths for Pesach use, while I still remember (having entirely forgotten about it last year). After that I want to try again at some soakers for her.

I’m not sure how ambitious all this is, as I’m due to start an intensive language course next week (all morning, five days a week, with possibly an hour’s commute each way, for five months) which will involve homework, and I do want to keep up with the daily blogging too, as well as my reading, although I expect the amount of that will drop. I can pretty much either read or crochet while on the bus, so we’ll see how much I alternate between the two.

Alternatives

Sunday, 24 April 2011
Days of Infamy series

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53. Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove

It seems Turtledove writes two types of alternative history: one, as in The Guns of the South, previously discussed here, uses a science fiction mechanism to change things (there time travel, in his Worldwar series an alien invasion); the second, as here, simply posits a different decision being taken somewhere along the line that he feels would have caused a significant deviation from our recorded history. He will then write about the same episodes in history (usually major wars, from the books I’ve seen) through both mechanisms, as completely separate series or individual books.

In this particular book, the Japanese when attacking Pearl Harbor (my UK spell-check thinks that should be ‘harbour’, but as a place name I’m disagreeing) back up the devastation of its forces by air attack with an invasion, taking the islands and thereby not only slowing the Americans down in the Pacific, but also giving themselves a base from which to attack the US mainland‘s West Coast.

This is where I should admit that my knowledge of the Pacific part of WWII is pretty sketchy, and largely based on novels and films. (As a European Jew, my studies of WWII tended towards the Holocaust and the war in Europe.) I can’t comment much, therefore, on where the history and the alternative diverge, but certainly Turtledove makes everything seem pretty plausible.

As a novel, the story certainly works. We have several viewpoint characters, both Japanese and American (and one Japanese man who’s been living on Hawaii for decades but can’t quite understand why his sons consider themselves American rather than Japanese). All but one or two of these are based on and around the Hawaiian islands for most of the novel, and those are US mainlanders who give us some perspective on how things are being seen from afar, as well as in positions likely to get them more involved later in the series. I think the mix is good to show us what’s happening to the various populations involved, and yet the characters are developed individuals that we can care about or at least understand.

I don’t have the sequel to this yet, but I am looking forward to it. I’ve really taken to Turtledove’s alt. history, and they’re good and thought provoking.

Should I, or not?

Saturday, 23 April 2011
Cover of "The Trumpet of the Swan (full c...

Cover of The Trumpet of the Swan (full color)

I’m not adding this book to my list of what I’ve read this year, because I’m missing 30 pages of it (to be precise, pp121-152 repeat, and then the text skips straight to p185 in my copy), but I think I’ve read enough of it to discuss here anyway.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

I’ve read Charlotte’s Web several times as a child, and heard of Stuart Little, but I hadn’t come across this E. B. White book before. It’s the story of a boy who loves nature (Sam) who on one of his regular camping trips with his father sees a pair of Trumpeter Swans nesting, and who keeps an eye on them as much as he can. More specifically it’s the tale of Louis, one of the cygnets, who is lacking a voice. His parents consider this quite a serious handicap, since a male Trumpeter Swan attracts his mate with his call, and so his father undertakes to obtain a trumpet for him, while Louis and Sam find some even more unorthodox means of communication for him.

As in Charlotte’s Web, the animal stars generally understand human speech and some experts understand human culture in great detail, even though the humans do not understand animal conversation. Those with such expertise find ways to interact with humans to get what they and their family/friends need. In this book the interaction is much more extensive and two way, with the animal stars deviating much further from expected species behaviour.

I generally enjoyed the tale, although I found it a little more twee than I expected. If it comes up I’d like to get a complete copy for DD when she’ll be old enough to appreciate chapter stories.

Armchair travels to places I’ve been

Friday, 22 April 2011

Cover of Neither Here Nor There61.  Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

Admittedly, there are several places in this book that I have not so far visited, but I have some familiarity with enough of them that I could occasionally smile knowingly and other times wonder at how much difference perspective can make. And that is really the point of this book, which details a wandering tour of Europe Bryson made in 1990, and regularly compares it to one he made in 1973 (I think) as a teenager with a friend, as well as an earlier solo journey.

I’ve never read any Bryson before, although I have seen various of his books umpteen times on personal, library and bookshop shelves over the years, as he’s been prolific and popular, particularly in the British Isles. Interestingly (to me) my mother just read her first book by him in the last couple of weeks as well (another of his travelogues from the 1990s) and we appear to have had the same impression: that he’s on-and-off funny but rather crude, and that he’s too much of a tourist, barely speaking to anyone on his travels or doing more than scratch the surface of the places he visits.  I did my first (and relatively extensive) travelling with my parents, so I suppose it’s unsurprising that like my mother I want to get to know places a little, both by going there for a bit of time and by reading up on it before, during and even after the trip. Whenever possible, I like to go and actually do something (a course, or a job/volunteering, say) in the city/region that gets me meeting people there (often but preferably not only other incomers) and living a bit of life there. That’s not to say that I haven’t done short visits to cities like Venice, Prague and Amsterdam, just that I wouldn’t expect anyone to be interested in my opinions on those cities other than in relation to making a similar-length visit of their own.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, since Bryson is quite upfront about how he’s travelling and what he’s writing about, but honestly I’m not really all that interested in the name of the hotel he stayed in and what tourist tat was available. I wanted something that this wasn’t, and I wanted it to be funnier without all the jokes being at the level of stereotypical and stereotyping schoolboy humour. If I were going to give Bryson’s writing another chance I’d probably go for one of his books about Britain (where he’s apparently lived for many years) or the USA (where he’s from), as there are real flashes of insight in this book when he’s discussing places and things he knows better, and isn’t just making it clear how homesick he was by the end of the journey.

Time for bouncing

Thursday, 21 April 2011

60. Bounce Bounce Bounce: A Lap Game Book for Babies by Kathy Henderson, illustrated by Carol Thompson

This isn’t a story, and it isn’t entirely a structured game either. Realistically I think DD is too little for it, and we may do better with it in about a year, or even more, when she’s running, jumping, pushing boundaries and more. Each double page features first a sentence and picture describing and showing ‘correct’ behaviour with a piece of furniture or common object, and then the second shows and describes a more active and sometimes (depending on the family and its rules) a boundary pushing way of using it. So the first page says, “Chairs are for sitting on.” The pictures shows a woman sitting on an armchair, stroking a cat on her lap, while the little boy shown throughout sits at her feet with a toy in his lap. The next page’s text reads, “Bounce bounce bounce!” and shows the toddler bouncing with his toy on the armchair while the cat flees.

I think this is one we’ll keep back for later.