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Thursday Evening Chitchat

A few news items from the last week:

By the Sea, by the Sea...

Here is an excerpt from Underwater to Get Out of the Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea, by the prominent British marine biologist Trevor Norton:

I had also learned something far more important: that scientists find out by doing, not by being told. Existing ideas and facts are merely signposts to the future and sometimes misleading ones at that. To linger too long on what is already known, however interesting it may be, is to be distracted from the business of science, which is not just the accumulation of facts, but the pursuit of the new and, if you are lucky, the unexpected.

The learn-by-doing idea expressed by Norton reminds me so much of my own industrious, sea-loving boy. (Sometimes I wish school could be held on the beach!)  Norton's book is my current read, and I am loving this memoir full of fascinating natural history and funny storytelling. (It is not a children's book, but check out the great cover.) 

The mini-marine biologist at your house might like the early reader Tentacles!: Tales of the Giant Squid, written by Shirley Raye Redmond and illustrated by Bryn Barnard, and Sylvia A. Earle's non-fiction picture book Sea Critters, with beautiful close-up photographs (sea squirt, cuttlefish, cup coral, etc.)  by Wolcott Henry. Sea Critters easily introduces a little scientific classification, too, using terms like Porifera (sponges) and Cnidaria (jellyfish & co.) in a context that children can understand.

Yay for Daniel Pinkwater

How have we been missing Daniel Pinkwater all these years? I've mentioned his NPR book selections, and yet my almost-second-grader and I did not get around to reading any of the author's own picture books until last week. Our loss, because they're wonderful!

In a way, though, I am glad. Like the late Bill Peet, Pinkwater is a prolific writer, and now we have so many books to look forward to.  Two of the titles that my son has liked the most so far concern polar bears with a taste for muffins: Irving and Muktuk and Bad Bears in the Big City. Irving and Muktuk can be more than a little sneaky in their quest for treats, even when they have day jobs. Written with a quirky sense of humor, the books are fun read-alouds. (Be prepared for reading them over and over.) We'll need to look for Bad Bear Detectives and Bad Bears and a Bunny to keep up with their other adventures.

Also splendid is an older book, The Big Orange Splot, illustrated like the above two in vivid colors by Jill Pinkwater, who is married to the author. A neighborhood begins to change when a seagull accidentally spills orange paint onto someone's roof. Change for the better? For the worse? You'll have to read and see, if you haven't already.

Visit for more information on the author and the illustrator. There you can read a work-in-progress, too. For Daniel Pinkwater's latest recommendation on NPR, go here.

There are some eighty Pinkwater books in all, so we've just begun this particular reading journey. What's your favorite Pinkwater tale?

Guest Column No. 2 by Pooja Makhijani

Editor's note: I am so pleased to run this column by Pooja Makhijani. In May, Pooja shared the terrific "South Asian Stories to Tell" with readers here. Welcome back to Chicken Spaghetti! Susan

India Ink
A Guest Column by Pooja Makhijani

A few months ago, Susan and I exchanged comments on her post "Comics Classic." I urged her to find the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) version of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata wherever she could. Luckily, thanks to the wonder that is the interlibrary loan, Susan was able to score a copy through her local library.

Like many Indian-American children, ACK was my first introduction to the myths, history, and folktales of my parents' native India. Though far from perfect, the comics made the convoluted plotlines of the Mahabharata and Ramayana easier to follow. They introduced me to historical figures such as the Rani of Jhansi, Akbar, and Rabindranath Tagore. They brought the Panchatantra—a collection of Sanskrit fables exported to western Europe through travelers via Persia, Arabia, and Greece—to life in my suburban American home.

I outgrew my ACK books when I was 10 or 12. By then, I had graduated to Wonder Woman and X-Men. I was also ready and interested in exploring the moral complexity of the Mahabaratha and Ramayana and began reading more "adult" versions of those tales.

o o o o o

Earlier this year, new-age kook guru Deepak Chopra, filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor (best-known for Cate Blanchett-starrer Elizabeth), and Sir Richard Branson joined creative forces to form Virgin Comics, whose mission is "to create original stories and characters that tap into the vast library of mythology and reinvent the rich... narratives of India."

The new comic line launched three imprints this summer—Shakti, Director's Cut, and Voices. Shakti, loosely translated as "female power" or "female force," focuses on re-imagining myths from the Indian Subcontinent. Director's Cut is a collaboration between comics writers, artists, and famous filmmakers. Voices is a collaboration between Virgin Comics and "iconic mavericks" or "masters in their own fields... that have something to offer the world of graphic fiction." Virgin alerts us to keep our eyes peeled for "the man everyone considers the best-kept secret in the creative arts" and a "certain pop icon" to show us their comic book skills. (Madonna, is that you?)


And was I excited when I received Issue #0 in the mail, which featured excerpts from two of the comic series in the Shakti line—Devi and Ramayan Reborn

Devi literally means "goddess" and is the story of a goddess reborn as a young woman who fights crime in modern Sitapur, a town in northern India. The comic hit shelves in early July and has sold more than 10,000 copies, according to Virgin Comics and Animation. Devi is one cool chick. The black-leather-clad superhero is busty, goth, and extremely fair-skinned for the average Indian woman. Here, why don't you take a look at Devi. A cross between Angelina Jolie and The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Aishwarya Rai, maybe? 

Ramayan Reborn (FYI, the epic is referred to as "Ramayan" and "Ramayana") is the relaunch of one of Hinduism's central narratives. The series will land in bookstores and libraries in September. The original Ramayan chronicles the fourteen-year exile of Prince Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and his defeat of the evil demon, Ravana. The Virgin version takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and describes Rama's quest to recover Earth's most precious element from Ravana. The excerpt I read is beautiful, heart-wrenching, and intriguing; I will definitely pick up Issue #1 next month.

Shakti and Director's Cut also launched several other series that use India as their inspiration: Sadhu, Snakewomen, and Vetaal: The First Vampire. Shakti plans to release ten additional stories in 2007. 

o o o o o 

The most obvious difference between the ACK comics of my childhood and these slicker versions is the art. The ACK art is, to me, quite traditionally Indian. It often reminds me of a ubiquitous form of color, line, and type found in contemporary India on everything from shop counters to calendars to roadside signs. The Virgin comics use what I associate with modern superhero comic book conventions: dark and psychologically complex characters, varied panel angles, and complex montages. However, like ACK, Virgin's art is seeped in Indian and Hindu motifs and iconography. Check out these panels.

These comics aren't for the youngest readers, of course. And those expecting faithful adaptations should look elsewhere. Ramayan Reborn is not for the mythology-phile trying to get a grasp of the original text; it's for the comic book fan open to an reinterpretation. Check them out. I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. (An aside: The Ramayana has become a controversial text; it is both a flashpoint and touchstone for Hindu fundamentalists. To that end, Virgin has included a disclaimer on the material they sent me: "Ramayan Reborn is a reinvention of the Ramayan in every way. There is no intention to faithfully recreate the original text. Our goal is to tell a whole new story by springboarding off the original that we love so much, with respect and admiration." Such a disclaimer is not included with the art and text of Devi.)

o o o o o

*Sigh.* All this chat of comic books is making me nostalgic. I haven't looked at my hard-bound, plastic-covered ACK version of the Ramayana in years. Now I want to call home and have my mother dig it out.

Pooja Makhijani is the editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, an anthology of essays that explores the complex ways in which race shapes American lives and families. Her first picture book, Mama's Saris, is forthcoming. She maintains a frequently updated online bibliography of South Asian youth literature.

Australia's Kids' Books of the Year 2006

The Children's Book Council of Australia announced its Book of the Year winners on August 18th.  Click on the following link to see the winners and honorees.

The Children's Book of the Year Awards 2006

Over at the New Misrule Blog, an Aussie venture by Judith Ridge, you'll find lots of fun photos of authors and illustrators at Friday's festivities.

Mainely Children's Books highlights some children's books with a Maine connection. These are new titles; don't forget about older ones like Robert McCloskey's colorful Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man, too.

I recommended the Scholastic/Weston Woods video of Burt Dow last fall, and want to call attention to another fine production by the same company:  the DVD of The Scrambled States of America. Like Laurie Keller's picture book, the adaptation is a fun and silly geography lesson.

Book Review Cliches

Critical Mass, the blog of National Book Critics Circle board of directors, recently interviewed Tom Walker, book editor of the Denver Post. Among other topics, he talked about book-reviewing cliches that get the delete button, and Critical Mass followed up with another post on phrases to avoid. Oops. I'm guilty of having employed at least two of them:  "limns" (when I used to review theater) and "laugh out loud."  Oh, dear.  I would also add "muscular prose" to the Critical Mass list. Ew. Are there any cliches that you would add to the list?

Links to the Critical Mass posts [edited to update earlier information]
"The War Against Cliche"
"The Critical I: Six Questions for Tom Walker"

Book Meme

Big A little a tossed this meme to the kidlitosphere, and I couldn't resist.

1. One book that changed your life? Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi. Reading this autobiography as a teen, I began to understand the Civil Rights Movement.

2. One book you have read more than once? The Capers Papers, by Charlotte Capers. Humorous essays by a director of the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History. She was a friend of Eudora Welty.

3. One book you would want on a desert island? I'd opt instead for a New Yorker subscription.

4. One book that made you laugh? Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris.

5. One book that made you cry? Little Women.

6. One book you wish had been written? I would love it if James Marshall were still alive and writing his funny children's books.

7. One book you wish had never been written?  Rather than books, I am going to talk about a herb. Specifically, thyme. I wish it had not been invented because it crops up when I least expect it. Some people feel this way about raisins, but those I don't mind. Tarragon, dill, cumin, curry, cilantro: thumbs up. But spare me the thyme.

8. One book you are currently reading? Runaway, by Alice Munro.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?  After reading Scholar's Blog's guest column on Terry Pratchett, I have been meaning to read Wee Free Men.

10. Now tag five people. Fellow bloggers, please chime in if you would like.