Monthly Archives: May 2016

Phhhttt, the Sound of Your Soul

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Raymie Nightingale was all about souls and friendship and finding a purpose in life. It was for kids. I kept thinking ‘this is so metaphysical; will kids get it’? And the answer is—YES! Of course, Kate DiCamillo knows how to write a book kids will love and understand. For some reason I always think of DiCamillo as the Marilynne Robinson for kids; a soothing balm for an aching soul. For Robinson, her characters have to deal with an adult world, and DiCamillo deals with anything from the ordeals of a mouse named Despereaux, to a china rabbit named Edward Tulane, to a ten-year-old girl whose father has left her for a dental hygienist.

“The world went on. People left and people died and people went to memorial services and put orange blocks of cheese into their purses. People confessed to you that they were hungry all the time. And then you got up in the morning and pretended that none of it had happened.”

Raymie Nightingale has lost her father to a dental hygienist. She is sad, and she wants her dad back. She decides to compete in the Miss Central Florida Tire competition, in hopes that if she wins, her picture would be in the paper, her father would see it, and he would come home. Far reaching hopes only a ten- year- old would dream up, but her intentions quickly stray as she meets two other fellow competitors: Beverly and Louisiana.

The two other girls have their own hopes and problems. Beverly has had to compete in beauty competitions before, and is determined to sabotage this event. Louisiana lives with her grandma who can’t afford to feed her. Her parents were the Flying Elefante’s, but they both drowned when their ship sank. (this story was most likely made up by Louisiana’s grandma, and we never learn the true story of her parents disappearance) Louisiana also has a hard time breathing and had to give up her cat Archie to the animal shelter, because they could afford to feed it anymore. Like Raymie, Beverly’s dad does not live with her, and Beverly has tried to run away to be with him. Beverly’s mom hit her after one of these attempts.

So right about now Raymie’s situation ain’t lookin’ so bad, right?

But Raymie isn’t terribly winey, and she understands her friends are in worse shape than herself, which is what saves Raymie. Raymie’s looking for answers. Like anyone who has to undergo a huge life change, it’s normal to start wondering what it’s all about.

“’Mrs. Borkowski, who lived across the street from Raymie and who was very, very old, said that most people wasted their souls.

‘How do they waste them?’ Raymie had asked.

‘They let them shrivel,’ said Mrs. Borkowski. ‘Phhhtttt.’”

So what will fill up Raymie’s soul? What does her soul crave more than anything else?

Well, I’ll only say this: she finds it, which– lucky her, because that’s a hard thing to find, and she found it at ten!

Every DiCamillo book I’ve read has been a solid read. Just to put it in perspective I’ve read The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Now, I’ll be honest; I’ve read all of these books because I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane first. That’s DiCamillo’s Gilead (see above for Robinson comparison). It’s beautiful, and it’s all about a china rabbit. But read some of these words:

“You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.”


“I have been loved, Edward told the stars. So? said the stars. What difference does that make when you are all alone now?”


“Look at me, he said to her. His arms and legs jerked. Look at me. You got your wish. I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me. The old woman turned and hobbled away. Come back, thought Edward. Fix me”


“But in truth,’ said Bull, ‘we are going nowhere. That my friend, is the irony of our constant movement.”


“I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me.”

Okay, I’ll stop now before I end up copying the whole book down. It’s wonderful, and no matter how old you are you should definitely pick it up and read it.

Now about Raymie Nightingale. No DiCamillo book has ever compared to Edward Tulane. Raymie was good, it was a fast read, but it felt like it was missing pieces. I think the intention was to concentrate on Raymie finding her place after her father left, but nothing ever really became of the whole beauty competition (I think I was hoping for a Little Miss Sunshine thing), and the three girls stole their baton twirling instructor’s baton, but then that kind of just fell off a cliff (metaphorically speaking), and there was just a lot she built up, and then just left out of the ending. I love stories of friendship, and DiCamillo has a deft pen, so you know you’re going to be reading quality writing when you pick up one of her books, but I think, deep down, I’m just looking for another Edward Tulane.

I Will Name a Daughter Veruca (or not, because that’s a plantar’s wart)

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*Okay, quick update on naming a daughter Veruca… although here in the United States that seems like a really cool name, Veruca is another name for a plantar’s wart. Silly, silly Dahl. You might even get away with naming a daughter Veruca here in America, because seriously, who’s gonna know?

It’s been over a month since my niece and I finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve put it off, because how in the world do you review a beloved classic. What can I say? It was good. It was fabulous. Definitely a classic…

When we were reading Charlie, N had to have some kind of sweet, and at the time we had Girl Scout cookies, so forever this book will remind me of Thin Mint cookies.

Yeah, I’m not going to waste time with a synopsis. I’m not going to tell you how great this book was, because yuh probably already know! So I’m going to write another limerick in honor of Charlie, Willy Wonka, the Oompa Loompas, and my favorite… Veruca Salt (just say that… Veruca… it’s wonderful! If I ever have a daughter that’s totally going to be her name!). Here goes…

Charlie, you got the Golden Ticket!

Wow kid, you know how to pick it!

You get to meet Willy-

Now don’t be too silly

Mr. Wonka is hard to outwit.

Ehhh, how about another-


Veruca Salt, your name is the best,

But you didn’t pass Willy Wonka’s test,

Those squirrels got you,

But you lived! Phew!

Next time, try to be a better guest!

Okay, okay, one more…

Oompa Loompas are midgets? No they’re not!

Movies you lie, and ruin the plot.

They’re just very small-

More the size of a Barbie Doll,

Mr. Dahl was right! Your movie was rot!

Biomimicry…Heard of it?

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Animal Poop: A limerick

Animals please come poop on my garden

Bear, deer, weasel, and little wren.

Go ahead! Make it your lou,

Please feel free; take a big poo-

Thanks so much for fertilizen’!

Inspired by: The Wild Robot


I’m not big on adventure stories. I don’t like to read about survival. Robots…ehh, I could take them or leave them, and kids’ books with: Adventure! Survival! Robots! Well, normally, I’d pass, but I love Peter Brown. His picture books are some of my favorite, so when I saw he had a chapter book out, and it was about all the things listed above I was a bit disappointed, but hopeful that his good humor would shine through and I wouldn’t notice all the boring survival, adventure, robot stuff.

(And this is for kids, but I assume if I’m entertained, kids will probably be entertained.)

I was entertained! It was good. It was a fast read. It would’ve been a great read aloud, because Peter Brown is a picture book author at heart and he knows how to write fast lyrical sentences that capture the attention of the young’uns.

The Story

So, biomimicry is this science that looks for solutions to human problems in nature. (There are TED talks about it) And I don’t know if Peter Brown intended it, or I just noticed it because I had just listened to a TED talk about it, but this story is full of biomimicry:


Okay, let’s go back to the beginning so this makes sense. Roz is a robot that gets stranded on a deserted island when a terrible hurricane crashes her ship. She lands on the island, and quickly learns to start adapting herself to the environment around her. She’s able to stay camouflaged for long periods of time and learns the language of the animals. She adopts a gosling and becomes its mother.

Let’s stop here… notice the melding of two worlds: nature (the island) and technology (Roz the robot). This is the pervading theme throughout Wild Robot. This is a world in the future where the seasons are harsher, storms are stronger, and some cities have gone underwater… sound like something you’ve heard of? Yeah, global warming. Also, Roz’s power comes from…the sun.

Biomimicry is a sustainable way for humans to live on the earth without destroying the earth. When Roz and the animals have a problem, they look to nature to solve it. The beavers were the most helpful animals. They helped Roz and Brightbill (gosling) build a fort on the shores of the pond, and when Roz lost a foot, they built her a new one. When Brightbill is first learning to fly, they watch other birds to mimic the best flight strategy.

This is biomimicry. This is what the science is trying to do in our world. Learn from what nature has already produced. If I were still a kid I would want to go make a fort out of mud, sticks, and rocks like the beavers. I would want to plant a garden and invite all the forest animals to poop in it. I would want to watch ants scurry about, and birds fly. This book is a great motivator! Let’s go outside! It’s interesting!

This is also a story about caring for one another, helping out, listening before we react. Roz is a great teacher, and an even better mother. She is calm and wise, and saves the island during a harsh winter. She learns emotion from her animal friends, and strives to always do the right thing.

It’s not a “lesson” book, because there’s just not a lot of conflict. This island becomes a kind of “environmental utopia”.

Peter Brown is essentially telling us: this is how you live sustainably! This is how you get along!

It was a good book. I think kids will especially like it!

Other Great Peter Brown books:

There’s more TED talks on biomimicry! Here’s a link.

BOMB. Boom.

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The Bomb. Yes, both the book Bomb: the Race to Build- And Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, and well, THE BOMB, which President Obama will talk about this week when he becomes the first serving President to visit Hiroshima.

We were the first country to develop it. We were the first only country to drop it. Twice.

Steve Sheinkin, the author of Bomb, was a textbook writer who felt guilty about writing boring history for massive amounts of kids, so he quit that job, and started writing nonfiction for young adults, and man oh man, does he do a great job!

I decided to read this book not because I wanted to know more about the development of the nuclear bomb, but because I wanted to know what the world of YA nonfiction had to offer. The section at the library is a bleak island of sadness populated by sad memoirs about self-harm and books you would need for a boring book report. Not that I would ever begrudge the need for any of these books, but they’re not the kind of thing to attract life long reading. And the YA genre is a huge thing right now! Teenagers are reading! Fantasy! Romance! Graphic Novels! They want to be entertained, and the bleak island of sadness at the library ain’t gonna cut it. Grab them now nonfiction! Pull them in and teach them things, broaden their minds, but dear God don’t bore them! Don’t you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Hormones are raging, you’re hungry constantly, insecure, tired, you’re brain’s still not all connected…there’s too much going on- you’re part kid and part adult, so appeal to that! Use your imagination, make it exciting! History isn’t dull.. history’s horrible! Kids love that! Give them the death, destruction, and anguish they crave.

Don’t think it’s possible, well, Steve Sheinkin’s doing it, and he’s do it well! So there naysayers! Proved. You. Wrong. Ha!

This book had it all. Intrigue, biography, war, murder. I’ve always loved the Oppenheimer quote:

“Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.”

This quote is so hauntingly correct in its context. Oppenheimer said it after the bombs had dropped on Japan. He felt a great amount of guilt after WWII and tried to stop the proliferation of the nuclear bomb, and it’s bigger sister the hydrogen bomb, but he was unsuccessful. I don’t know how to feel about Oppenheimer. He’s a bit of an enigma. He helped build it, what’d he think was going to be done with it?

The best part of the book was about the Norwegian secret agents that were dropped into German controlled Norway to blow up the plant creating Heavy Water (used to produce nuclear bombs). These guys, I can’t remember how many (8?) parachuted onto this snowy mountain, waited around, spied on the plant, and then snuck into this heavily guarded plant and blew it up. It was unbelievably good reading! And I’d never heard of it. The whole thing would make a great movie.

That’s how this book was. It’s for a younger audience, which makes it more concise and engaging (not a lot of backlog “story”).

It’s told in three parts: the bomb making, the Soviet spies trying to steal the bomb plans, and the sabotage in Germany.

America was making a bomb to drop on Germany, not Japan. Japan just wouldn’t concede, and America got sick of fighting, so they dropped the granddaddy of all bombs down on their heads, and that was that. Japanese voices were represented (at the end), and if you’d recently read Voices From Chernobyl (which I had), you would have been horrified to think about the radiation impact on these people’s lives (and let’s not forget THE WORLD), but they didn’t know then what we know now.

Why in the hell did the Japanese keep fighting after the first bomb? Honor I guess. Stupid honor.

And the Hydrogen bomb. Yeah, that little ball of horror is like a thousand (I don’t know the actual scale) bigger than the bombs dropped on Japan. And yeah, a bunch of counties are sitting pretty on these little apocalypses too. A nuclear war between Pakistan and India would kill us all.

Just a little food for thought.

This was an awesome book, a little bright light on the island of YA nonfiction sadness.. which I take as a call to action! Let’s give our teens a beacon! Let’s reel them in and teach them the joy of learning. Let’s create a better YA nonfiction section at the library!

Here’s a link to more YA nonfiction titles! There are more, but they’re untested by me, so hopefully they’re good. I can’t make any promises.




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I want to take a quick moment here to share something awesome that I just discovered (this is a 2 parter):

So, this is one of my favorite picture books:

and I just discovered, via a random tweet, these:

and this was my reaction,

because these books, I’ll admit, I looooove to read out loud, because I can use a British accent, and they’re so darn cute!

Okay, part two of my happy surprise today- The author of the Emily Brown books is also the writer of these:

Nuff said? Thanks internet.