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May 2005
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July 2005

Lotsa de Criticism

Finding negative reviews of Lotsa de Casha, Madonna's latest, is akin to shooting fish in a barrel.  Catch this one from Belfast:

Even worse, these trite homilies devalue the currency of the fairytale.

All the darkness, danger and delirium of this tradition (which, in recent years, has excited writers such as Angela Carter and A S Byatt) is washed away in a tide of schmaltz.

Ouch. This makes  Publishers Weekly's "artless fable" comment look like a rave. Okay, not really.

I should point out that everyone complements the art work of Rui Paes.

And I want to tell y'all that I had a very nice e-mail from Callaway, Madonna's publisher, explaining that the web site will be updated within the next month and will include information on Lotsa de Casha. Now, if I were an author and the web site wasn't current with my newest, I might be a little ticked off, but then again I've never sold out Madison Square Garden.

Do you think the name recognition will outweigh the bad reviews? And that, my friends, is my final rhetorical question of the evening.

The Lion, the Witch, Harry Potter & Christopher Paolini

USA Today says look out, Harry, here comes Narnia, but I've heard at least one bookseller tout Christopher Paolini's Eldest as the real threat to Master  Potter. Of course, USA Today has good reason to be predicting success for the C.S. Lewis series: HarperCollins has 167 Narnia-related titles to sell, as The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe will be re-incarnated as a Disney movie  in early December.

Keep an eye on Eldest, which debuts in August; it's the sequel to the best-selling fantasy Eragon, which is also being made into a movie as we speak. Last year Ann Hulbert at Slate wrote about child-prodigy authors like Paolini, who began writing his series when he was 15.

Strut with Tut

Now, when I die,
Don’t think I’m a nut,
Don’t want no fancy funeral,
Just one like ole king Tut. (King Tut) 

Well, he's baaaack. No, not Steve Martin. He never went anywhere. King Tut, and he's in L.A., man. (He last toured the U.S. in the late seventies. ) Tut stays at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through November 15, then moves east to Fort Lauderdale, in time to catch all the snowbirds migrating south.  Remember the 1960  movie "Where the Tuts Are?" Ba dump bump.

Last weekend the Washington Post looked at  a book that sounds like the accompaniment to  the exhibit, especially if you're between the ages of 9 and 12. The Post  likes  Zahi Hawass's Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Boy King a lot.

"The text is written by no less an authority than the director of excavations at the Giza Pyramids and head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, but it's accessible ("according to one Egyptologist, someone might have snuck up on Tutankhamun . . . and hit him on the head") and imaginatively organized."

You can access Elizabeth Ward's  short  review here; you'll need to register first. The National Geographic Society, one of the  Tut tour organizers, is the publisher of Hawass's book.

lyric  from the song "King Tut," Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy (1978)

Books for Babies: Hold the Eliot

Confession time. When my son Junior was only a few months old, I came up with the cockamamie scheme of reading him T.S. Eliot. "Let us go then, you and I/When the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherised upon a table..."

Why on earth would I subject a baby to such a thing? Because, in the name of misguided parents everywhere, I never really understood Eliot, and I knew, just knew, that Junior would be enthralled with the sound of my voice, even if I was reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Then I would be an Eliot expert and we would be oh-so-literary. He hated it. All of it. "Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets/ The muttering retreats/ Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels/ And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells..." He bawled. I had to give up. So I switched to A. A. Milne. "James James Morrison Morrison..." and that went over better.

I wish I'd known about the Beginning with Books awards, sponsored by a Pittsburgh early-literacy organization. Junior would have been spared the whole lit'ry-stage-mom craziness. Fortunately I got over it.

But I still can't figure out Prufrock.

Mo Willems Gives Props to Kevin Henkes

Here's a profile of Mo Willems, the author of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! He confesses that his four-year-old daughter loves Kevin Henkes's books.

If you're searching for Mo, he's in Chicago this weekend, at the American Library Association's convention. He's signing books this afternoon and attending the Newbery/Caldecott honoree dinner this evening. (He snagged a Caldecott honor for Knuffle Bunny.)

Original works by Mo, Kevin Henkes, Erich Rohmann (My Friend Rabbit), and Mordicai Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers), among others, are part of the exhibit "Fantasy, Facts, and Furry Friends: Caldecott Medal and Honor Books, 2001-2005," at the Art Institute of Chicago (through October 30).

O Canada

Up Ontario way a Canadian mom of six is launching a series of biographies devoted to Canadian prime ministers. The Ottawa Sun shines a favorable light on the endeavor.

The thirtysomething [Jacqueline] Brown is the brains (and the publisher) behind a smart and delightful new series of children's books about our prime ministers. The "Warts and All" series has just begun with the publication of Sir John A Macdonald: The Rascal Who Built Canada, a book that has all the historical details on the dude on the $10 bill as well as the sort of obscure fun facts -- did you know John A. was the only prime minister who ever threw up in the House of Commons? -- that keep kids reading.

Problem Books

Remember the weepin' and wailin' over The Rainbow Party, which I linked a while back?  Here's the Wall Street Journal on young adult fiction:  "This season, publishers are rolling out more volumes for teens that are full of heavy themes, from binge drinking to incest."

Usually these Journal articles are kept under lock and key, but today you can access them for free. Take advantage of the opportunity. And you can read Terry Teachout's drama review, too. (Thanks to Beatrice for the Journal reminder.)

Last week at Slate, Ann Hulbert examined the YA scene, too. Her daughter is reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, but Hulbert also lets it drop just how much the eighth-grader enjoyed The Odyssey. (Oh, bleck... on the credentializing,  not The Odyssey!)

Picture Book of the Week, no. 2

Hello, Fish! Visiting the Coral Reef is a grand guide, with jaunty, informational text by the marine  biologist Sylvia A. Earle and beautiful full-page photographs by Wolcott Henry. Earle's book would be a fine companion for the movie "Finding Nemo"; it even features a clown fish in an anemone on the front cover. (Our local aquarium jumped on the bandwagon, and now has a tank full of Nemos, Marlins, and  Dorys.)

I have only the tiniest quibble with the text. The use of first-person narration occasionally clanks. "Who's the 'I'?" I wondered when we first read the book, which is published by the National Geographic Society. But that's a minor flaw in an otherwise  super work of non-fiction.  "It's a true story," as my son would remind me. Hello, Fish! received an "outstanding" nod from the National Science Teachers Assocation  in 2000.  Recommended ages are 3 to 7; you can shorten the text if you need to when reading aloud to the little ones.

For Dr. Sylvia Earle's favorite web sites, check here.